Time lapse, insufficient information database and an ineffective tracking system minimise missing children’s chances of ever coming back home.

…when a child goes missing

Day 1: Child didn’t return from school or after playing with friends. Parents begin the search.
Day 2-3: Parents carry on searching in all familiar locations/areas and with family and friends.
Day 4: Approaching the authorities hasn’t crossed their mind. Why? They don’t know whether the police will comply.
Day 5-6: Approach the police who demand for varying sizes of a recent photograph of the child-24 in total. A few parents don’t have any photographs, nor do they have money to develop it.

Day 7-8: Parent lodges a complaint, not knowing the difference between a DD entry and an FIR. Police has started the process of filing Instant DDs today.
Day 9: Parents approach an NGO/civil society/higher authorities for further help, through whom an FIR is finally lodged, if not already.
Day 10: Their child has probably been sent to another city or country by now. And there is no system for tracking (inter-district/inter-state), minimising the child’s chances of ever coming back home.

July 29, 2011, New Delhi: Evidence collected by CRY-Child Rights and You and its partner alliances points to a large-scale occurrence of missing children in India today, says CRY. At a public hearing in Delhi today, families from communities in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, of children missing, recovered or found dead provided a first hand account of ‘what they did when their child went missing’.

The statistics show 8,945 children being abducted and kidnapped annually in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) annual report on Crime in India (2009). While according to RTIs filed by an NGO in 20091, an average of 60,000 children were found missing annually. “All children whose whereabouts are not known and clear are considered missing. This includes children who are kidnapped/abducted, those who have run away, gotten lost and have been trafficked,” says Yogita Verma, Director, CRY.

A report on the situation of missing children in Delhi, UP and MP, was presented to Joint Commissioner of Police S Nrityananjan, Senior Consultant, NCPCR Dr Ramakanth Naik, Mr Amod Kanth of DCPCR, Bharti Ali from HAQ-Centre for Child Rights, Retired Supreme Court Judge D.P Wadhwa, and Retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A.P. Shah-present during the event as jury members.

The main highlights of report are:

Delhi: According to the Zonal Integrated Police Network, the number of missing children from all 10 districts stands at a mere 468, of which 380 are FIRs, 88 are Daily Diary entries of 207 male and 261 female children of ages 0-18 (01.01.2011-30.04.2011). Whereas the number extracted through RTIs from just 8 districts, stands at 1,260, of which 835 are FIRs, 403 are DD entries, for the same period.
Details of 22 children (names, FIR/DD entry numbers etc.), and police station-wise distribution from the North district could not be traced through the RTIs, highlighting the problem of proper documentation. While 2 districts, namely, South-West and East did not provide with the information applied for.
Missing children between ages 12-18 is the highest at 72.8 %, while those between ages 0-6 and 7-12 stand at 6.76% and 20.45% respectively.

UP: As a result of the PIL filed in January 2008, on February 6th 2008, the UP Government completed the compilation of total missing children in 2006, and as many as 3,649 children were found missing.
RTIs filed in October 2010 in 8 districts (Gorakpur, Mau, Barabanki, Muzaffar Nagar, Agra, Ambadkarnagar, Pratapgarh and Azamgarh) revealed 250 children missing, with the highest incidence of missing children from Gorakhpur and Azamgarh-the former located on the border area of Nepal, while the latter is one of the poorest districts of the state.
Cases of missing children date back to 1999, the RTIs reveal.
Missing number of boys (61%) is higher than girls (31%), but there have been instances where parents do no register a case, for fear of the police, or in case of a girl missing, for fear of social stigma.

MP: RTIs from the State Bureau of Crime Records from 2003-2009 reveal an alarming 57,253 missing children, of which 28,779 were girls and 28,474 were boys, between ages 0-18.
10 per cent of these children are still missing-which could mean killed or trafficked.
Official data states 700 children go missing annually from the state, while RTIs from just 6 districts (Mandala, Balaghat, Shiwni, Dindori, Chhindwara and Katni) reveals a much higher number, i.e. 796 boys and 887 girls missing (total: 1,683) in 2007 and 2008.
In just 2 years, 33 per cent girls could not be traced, and they go missing from Balaghat, Shiwni and Chhindwara.
RTIs were filed to acquire information prior to 2007 in these districts for studying a trend or pattern in missing children-no records were found.

“If we want our children to be safe, the need of the hour is a common and up-to-date case recording and tracking system that helps in finding children even in other districts and states, without any lapse in time,” says Verma. CRY along with its partners, is working to make sure that the shockingly large numbers of missing children don’t remain an appalling secret. Through observations of the socio-economic profile of the areas, the most vulnerable to being trafficked, running away or getting lost, are children living in areas such as poor communities, slums, unauthorised and resettlement colonies-essentially from families with very poor livelihood options, little or no education and inaccessibility to safe spaces to live or play in.

“These children cater to the demands of labour for a number of industries like agriculture, domestic work, to child marriage and prostitution. Often runaway children become victims of organised begging rackets or pick-pocketing/ drug peddling rackets. While street children are also trafficked and further abused, physically or sexually and their cases are never registered,” says Verma, defining various industries with high demands for children.

Through interactions with families in communities, RTIs filed for information on the total number of children missing, and an analysis of old reports on the issue, CRY identified the following gaps:

  1. a high level of discrepancy in the ZIPNET numbers of missing children and those collected through RTIs
  2. relatively small number of FIRs lodged could lie in the way such cases are handled at police stations
  3. the time lag in information dissemination to other districts/states, even if the complaint is filed on time
  4. not many parents/families know how to act or what to do or when to decide that their child has gone missing. Most do not understand the distinction between an FIR and a DD entry.
  5. the issue of missing children is not ‘high priority’ for the police department
  6. a definitive gap between the police department and the CWC

CRY recommends a proper child tracking system and a common missing children database to be maintained for quick recovery of the child, and a better understanding of the trends/patterns for preventive and responsive strategies.

  • Missing Children cases should be reported as an FIR, as this forces the police to put the case before a court
  • A common database should be established to make tracking missing children simpler, faster across districts and states
  • Provision of special care and protection for rescued children, to ensure their rights are protected
  • Capacity building trainings on tracking missing children. Support system for families whose children have gone missing
  • A multi-disciplinary approach to dealing with rescued children-rehabilitation/reintegration, care and treatment trainings to be given to CWC members and the police
  • Increased awareness and information for those living in areas most vulnerable to kidnapping/abductions/trafficking
  • Establishing procedures and allocation of adequate resources for rescuing children who have been sent to other districts/states/nations.

There is not a single day without a case (registered or unregistered) of a child being exploited, abused, missing or killed, leading to the violation of a number of human rights, protection laws and policies-the right to health, liberty, security, freedom from torture, violence, cruelty or degradation, education, employment, and of course, the basic right to life and dignity, to name a few. The seriousness of the issue of missing children needs to be acknowledged and recognised by the Government in general and the police departments in particular. Adequate resources in human/material and financial, have to be invested towards establishing an effective system of tracing missing children.

For more information, contact: Purvi Malhotra, CRY: 9810039283,purvi.malhotra@crymail.org

Note to the Editor: CRY – Child Rights and You (earlier known as Child Relief and You) is an Indian NGO that believes in every child’s right to a childhood- to live, learn, grow and play. For over 30 years, CRY and its partners have worked with parents and communities to ensure Lasting Change in the lives of more than 20 lakh underprivileged children.

1 Hindustan Times (2011), ‘7 children go missing every hour’,http://www.hindustantimes.com/7-children-go-missing-every-hour/Articles1-664869.aspx (Accessed on 19/07/011)