NGOs, police have their own strategies to reunite runaways with their families

Sasank, a speech and hearing impaired 16 year old, was found at the Bangalore City Railway Station a month after he went missing in May last year.

He was reunited with his family with an NGO’s help. Tracking him down was a challenge as he was not able to communicate effectively but luckily, he was able to recognise a temple near his house after he was shown a series of pictures online, with a map. The NGO then contacted the police station located near the temple and the teen was restored to his family.

Tipped off

The tracing process sometimes starts with the Missing Child Bureau (MCB) or the child helpline, depending who gets the call first. “Often we are tipped off by the public — who we call concerned adults,” said Jennifer, the helpline coordinator.

“We sometimes receive calls from hospitals about abandoned babies as well. Apart from the police, we have a rescue booth at the Bangalore City Railway Station and the Majestic bus stand. Members of the public who spot such children keep them at the booth until the NGOs take them into their custody,” she said. The police too are informed and they help trace their family using data on missing complaints, she added.

The next step, Ms. Jenifer said, is counselling the child and getting all details of the family before reuniting it with its family. If the children are reluctant (usually it’s the older ones) to go home or have been abandoned, they are handed over to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). Shivanna, a member of the NGO, Sathi, said that it mostly handles missing cases from Davangere and Gulbarga and also within Bangalore. Concurring with Ms. Jennifer, he said that at least 10 children are found at the railway station every day.

Working with police

The process is challenging, said Fr. Jose of the Missing Child Bureau, which has cells in all the districts working in tandem with the police. There is a national online portal for missing children and the State government has plans to run a parallel online portal as well. He believes enhancing the existing portal (e.g., photo matching, fingerprint matching) would help achieve better results as it is jointly managed by NGOs along with childcare groups that have experience in rescuing children.

The bureau is keen on extending the portal accessibility to the gram panchayat level where many missing children cases don’t get reported. He said that a major problem in the tracing process is that many children are not able to provide accurate addresses or phone numbers.

An online portal with details of a missing child could have a wider reach and help expedite reunions. But the information fed into it must be monitored by the regulating authorities and be accessible only to the police officers concerned, childcare centres and others directly involved in the tracing process, he said.

Coy about reasons

Pranab Mohanty, Joint Commissioner Crime (West), said that police have various ways to trace the missing children and the approach depends on case-by-case basis.

“We first try to get the contact number of the parents. At times, there is resistance from the family and the institution involved to reveal the real reason why the child went missing and at others, the missing children are kidnapped and trafficked,” he said.

Referring to the proposed parallel portal for missing children along with the national portal, he said that an initiative called track child software was started in West Bengal on a pilot basis, with help from UNICEF.

Soon it may be implemented in other States where the authorities concerned can access it.

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