Kaveri (name changed) was nine years old when she was brought to Chennai from Salem by someone who falsely assured the lost child that she will be reunited with her parents. When she was recently rescued by the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) after almost 10 years of forced domestic labour, she could hardly remember anything about her earlier life.

While children's safety is a much-discussed topic these days, it is equally important to address the issue of missing children who haven't been traced till now, and that of the unlucky cases which go unreported, says C. Sridevi, Centre Coordinator, Childline, ICCW.

The government has a Missing Child Bureau, under the Department of Social Justice that maintains a website with details of missing children till 2007. State Police records show that the number of children gone missing increased from 117 in 2008 to 361 in 2010. Similarly, between 2003 and 2006, of 8,681 children who went missing, 667 remained untraced, the records say.

The Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) and Don Bosco Anbu Illam with help from other NGOs supervise child helplines in tandem with the police. From April 2008 to March 2010, the Chennai chapter of Childline responded to about 2,318 intervention calls. From 2008-2010, a total of 217 children were found, and 104 missing children cases were registered.

While the runaway children in the city are mostly in the 12-14 age group, there are fewer complaints received about the lost and found children who are aged around 8, says Ms. Sridevi.

Childline coordinators say the surge in migration for construction work is one of the main reasons for the alarming increase in the number of children being trafficked, particularly from Cuddalore, Villupuram, Madurai, Dindigul and Ramanathapuram and States such as Andhra Pradesh.

Some parents belonging to lower socio-economic backgrounds are mostly ignorant of registering police complaints and most times it is difficult to know if the child has gone missing or run away from home, Ms. Sridevi says.

All this makes work easier for the traffickers, she says, adding that children belonging to migrant families often don't remember their residential addresses.

Emotional abuse at home is often a reason for children to run away, says P. Bhanu, Childline coordinator, Don Bosco Anbu Illam. Such children are often hired for various jobs and, when employed as a group, the younger ones get physically abused by the older children, and sometimes even by their owners, says P. Bhanu, recalling a recent incident of a boy rescued from a roadside shop in Koyembedu. “Some of these children, even after being rescued, refuse to go back to their families.”

Advanced software applications in police stations that use recognition techniques to match facial features of the missing persons with those found, and link human trafficking with the data on missing children/women would help in faster rescue operations, say the coordinators.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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