11 children go missing every hour in India. This and other disturbing statistics cry out for urgent action

Every hour, 11 children go missing in the country. Four of these remain untraced, concludes a nation-wide research on missing children.

During 2008-10, close to 1,17,480 children were reported missing in 392 districts. Of them, 74,209 children were traced while 41, 546 remain untraced. The information has been collated by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) through Right to Information (RTI) applications, National Crime Record Bureau data, National Human Rights Commission and Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNet) website. In 2012, around 13 children were reported missing per day from Delhi alone. However, till April 15, 2012, 1369 have gone missing. Till the first week of June, 775 children remain untraced.

BBA works on issues of child rights and has suggested to the Government that it form a National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and establish a highly skilled investigation and rapid response task force to deal with the issue. It also wants the Government to make compulsory registration of, and investigation into all missing children cases.

Rakesh Sanjar, national secretary of BBA, says that the States which are worst affected by the menace, like Gujarat and Rajasthan, have not given them data through RTI.

According to the data available with BBA, with 26,211 children gone missing, Maharashtra tops the list, followed by West Bengal (25,413), Delhi (13,570), Madhya Pradesh (12,777), Karnataka (9956) and Uttar Pradesh (9,482).

The total number of untraced children at 41,546 is more than one third of the number of the total children gone missing in 2008-10. West Bengal tops the list of the States where missing children remained untraced during 2008-10, followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

The border districts of West Bengal, such as 24 Parganas, Medinipur, Malda, Dinajpur and Murshidabad have large number of untraced children.

Interestingly, when it comes to children being traced, again Maharashtra (18,706) tops the list followed by Delhi (11,870), Madhya Pradesh (9,537), Uttar Pradesh (7,586), West Bengal (6,653) and Karnataka (3,522).

Showing data procured through the RTI Act, the study reveals that 24,744 children were reported missing from metro cities of Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Delhi tops the list of metro cities on both indices of missing children as well as children untraced. On an average every year 6,785 children disappear from Delhi with 850 children remaining untraced, which is 12 per cent of the total reported missing. Out of the total untraced children from these metro cities, Delhi and Kolkata combined constitute 89 per cent.

The study claims that, “If the average number of 150 reported missing children per district (from available data) is extrapolated to all 640 districts in the country, the total number of missing children in India every year would come to the tune of 96,000, which means 263 children reported missing in a day and 11 children missing in an hour.”

The BBA founder, Kailash Satyarthi says, “The biggest problem… is the apathy of law and enforcement agencies because the majority of children going missing are not even being acknowledged, let alone registered and investigated.”

“The report which has data compiled from police records suggests that the number of children going missing is so high, but the same police record maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau suggests that only 16,595 cases have been registered in this time period which is less than 15 per cent of the cases that have come before the police,” argues Mr. Satyarthi.

Some of the reasons which the study points out behind the increase in the number of missing children include what it terms as, “no provision on addressing the issue of missing children in the Indian legal system.” For instance, it goes on to add, because no clear-cut definition of missing children is available in the Indian legal system, largely confusion prevails in conditions of missing children as they go missing due to a variety of causes including trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, false adoption, forced begging, forced marriages and rag-picking.

The study highlights an absence of “proper mechanism to document and update the database”. Information on the number of registered, traced and untraced cases of missing children is another important roadblock in dealing with the issue, besides lack of coordination between the agencies dedicated to the task.

“Defining a missing child is very important to help investigating agencies to deal with the phenomenon. It is important to have a clear policy guideline on definitions of trafficking and missing children,” recommends the study.