World View Columns

Finding the missing children

A school has restricted students from leaving the campus unless accompanied by parents or guardians. — File Photo K_MURALI_KUMAR  

In November 2016, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, while addressing a complaint relating to a missing child, criticised the State government’s laxity in tracing missing children. It noted the lack of coordination between officials of the district administration, social welfare, child welfare committee and the police.

The issue of missing children is hardly a problem restricted to Tamil Nadu. It is a national problem which needs to be tackled efficiently and at the earliest. Statistics show that over 60,000 children go missing every year in the country. In the past year, 2,953 children have gone missing in Uttar Pradesh. There are also concerns about the number of girl children who go missing, which, besides being particularly high, is often connected to human trafficking.

Online tracking sites

In 2012, non-governmental organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan — which is run by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi — filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on the issue of missing children, consequent to which the court ordered State and Central governments to periodically submit compliance reports in the court relating to the status of missing children in their respective States.

Pursuant to this order, the Ministry of Women and Child Development also set up a website, trackthemissingchild.gov.in. This interactive website has information relating to missing children in each State. This includes information relating to police stations in every State and the number of children missing and traced in real time. Another portal which was set up in June 2015 is http://khoyapaya.gov.in where information relating to missing children can be submitted.

Setting up these portals has been an encouraging development but greater awareness and specialised manpower are needed to ensure that these websites perform the functions that were envisioned for them. Additionally, despite the direction of the top court and action taken by the governments, there are also predominantly informal ways of dealing with the issue. For instance, images of missing children are shared on social media in an attempt at increasing outreach and tracing them.

Human trafficking

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), incidents of human trafficking are rising every year. This issue was also addressed in the briefing book released by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy earlier this month. One of the areas where evidence pointed to the urgent need for legal reform was the issue of tracing missing children and the links with trafficking.

Between 2013 and 2014, at least 67,000 children in India went missing; 45 per cent were minors who were victims of trafficking for prostitution. In trafficking, several causes have been identified by the NCRB. Primary causes are forced marriage, child labour, procuration of minors as domestic help and sexual exploitation. According to an answer to a question in the Lok Sabha in March 2016, a large number of minor girls were rescued from domestic servitude in 2014-15. In 2015, 147 minor girls were rescued from domestic servitude, with the largest number from Madhya Pradesh.

Grey area of ‘other reasons’

A study by Bachpan Bachao Andolan put the number of missing children as much as 10 times more than what is stated in their findings and research because the majority of trafficking victims are not included in missing cases nor is there any official record. Perhaps it is time to look further into the links between missing children and trafficking.

Interestingly, in the reasons identified by the NCRB for human trafficking, the most predominant cause was labelled as “other reasons”. Considering the critically large number of cases that fell under this category, this issue needs deeper study to find a targeted solution.

To begin with, the reasons behind children going missing need to be identified through specialised studies, unique to different States. This is because the reasons differ across the country. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, a key cause behind children being kidnapped is because they are used as domestic labour, which is not so in many other States.

The issue of missing children of India, and in particular the rising problem of children becoming victims of trafficking frequently makes international headlines and there is rising global concern about trafficking. It is worrisome that trafficking syndicates are thriving in the country, and this is a problem which must be addressed aggressively. The draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, which seeks to address loopholes in the legal system, impose stronger penal measures and address issues of rehabilitation, was not taken up in the winter session in Parliament this year. Hopefully it will come up in the budget session.

Strong, well-coordinated platforms are needed to deal with the problem of missing children. Sound rehabilitation measures need to be in place as well for the well-being and protection of rescued children who have been victims of violence. There is still a long way to go for a realistic solution to the problem.

Medha Srivastava is a Research Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 6:54:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Finding-the-missing-children/article16919563.ece

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