All States should immediately register FIRs

Expressing serious concern over the plight of missing children, the Supreme Court on Thursday summoned the Chief Secretaries of six States for not responding to the notice issued on a public interest litigation petition.

A Bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices J. Chelameswar and Vikaramajit Sen expressed dissatisfaction with the lukewarm response from all State governments, in particular Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh. The Chief Secretaries of these six States should appear in person on February 5, as they had failed to show up before the court and file a status report.

Accepting the arguments of the petitioner, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) that every day hundreds of children were going missing without a trace and law enforcement agencies were not serious about stopping this crime, and immediate steps should be taken for their rescue, the Bench directed all States to immediately register first information reports on the missing children.

The court also accepted the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission to set up a special juvenile police unit in every station across the country with a dedicated Child Welfare Officer/Special Juvenile Police Officer, to swiftly act on complaints of children in need of care and protection as well as in conflict with law.

The BBA said that according to statistics including those available with the National Crime Research Bureau, between January 2008 and January 2010, a total of 1,17,480 children had gone missing in 392 districts and 41,546 of them were still untraced. The figure would be higher as eight States and three Union Territories had not furnished data on missing children.

The number of children missing in India was almost 90,000 every year, with more than 30,000 remaining untraced. West Bengal accounted for the largest number of cases, followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

As the term ‘missing children’ had not been defined in any statute, the cases were not being handled properly and the fate of the children hinged on the whims and fancies of authorities. The statute recognised only abduction and kidnapping, the BBA said.

The petition said the missing children were being exploited as labourers, commercial sexual workers and in an adoption racket. It sought a direction to the Centre, the States and UTs to come out with a national action plan; to treat the kidnapping or trafficking in children as a non-bailable and cognisable offence and to prepare a national database on missing children.

Senior counsel H.S. Phoolka and counsel Jagjit Chhabra appeared for the BBA.