Rise in incidences of missing children

Children form a sizeable segment of the people reported missing from the State, writes G. ANAND.

A 17-year-old girl who was reported missing from the Fort police station limits in the city on May 7 last year is yet to be traced. So is another 20-year-old woman missing from the Poonthura police station limits.

Police records show that 97 persons were reported missing from the city last year. From the Thiruvananthapuram Rural police district 99 persons were reported missing in 2000. For the whole of the State as many as 1,753 persons were reported missing last year.

Though the exact break-up of figures was not immediately available, police sources said that children formed a sizeable segment of people reported missing in the State. When a child is reported missing, it could be a case of abduction, the kid getting lost or just an instance of the child running away from home or school. Whatever the case maybe, the fact remains that even runaway and lost children are vulnerable to exploitation in the streets and often end up as victims of child sex offenders.

Police sources said that failure in examination and domestic discord were the main reasons that children ran away from home. ""The police have a high detection rate as far as missing children are concerned,"" an official claimed.

However, officials said there was a felt need to streamline the existing system to ensure speedy detection of missing persons, particularly women and children.

Whenever a case of man, woman or child missing is reported in the State, the police send wireless messages and "lookout notices"" to all police district headquarters. The pictures and details of the missing persons are uploaded onto the police Intranet for ready reference by district SPs. The State Crime Records Bureau also has a Crime and Criminal Information System which constantly compares the details or unidentified dead bodies with that of persons reported missing. Whenever the system finds a match, the matter is reported to the police station concerned.

A senior police official said that in 90 per cent of the cases where missing persons are detected, it was more a matter of luck and effort on the part of relatives than efficiency of the police system. Lack of public participation in the police effort to track down missing persons and general apathy of the department to cases of this nature were the reasons, he said.

Hence, the State police are now thinking of roping in non- governmental organisations such as the National Centre For Missing Children and use the media as well as the Internet to trace missing children in a more effective and speedy manner.

Police said that in the city there have been several instances in which children have been reported missing from school. Officials said that children should be specifically instructed not to hitch-hike their way back home from school with strangers. School bus conductors should ensure that the child is handed over only to a known person. Schools should also have a "Call Back" programme to crosscheck with parents if their ward has safely reached home or why he was absent from school without prior notice.

Police said children getting lost on their way back home from school was also common. ""Primary and kindergarten children should carry identity cards with the name and address of their parents as well as a telephone number to be contacted in the event of an emergency,"" an official said.

At schools, children should be instructed not to interact with strangers or accept gifts from them. The child should be asked to keep his teachers, parents or friends posted about his whereabouts. Police said that parents should ensure that children move about in the city in groups rather than alone. The child's whereabouts, friends, his daily routine and route should be known to the parent.

Parents should always keep a latest photograph of the child and have the details of his height, weight, identification marks and colour of the eyes. The police should be alerted of the missing without any delay. ""Never assume that your child will not get lost,"" says an official.