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Are we really serious about getting them backIndia Blooms News Service
In her dingy, crudely built one-room shack in the Pratap Vihar of Outer Delhi, a mother holding a worn picture of her daughter Jahnvi, incessantly keeps saying the colour of her daughter’s clothing. “It was a pink frock with red flowers”, she mutters to everyone who visits her home. This was what her 8 year old daughter was wearing, the last time she saw her. This was 6 years ago. Little Jahnvi had gone to play with her friends nearby, but never returned. Thus Jahnvi became just another missing person reported. But for Amravati, the mother, she was her only daughter. For 6 years, Amravati stayed awake, praying for her daughter’s safe return, but the nights turned to days and days dragged onward with no news and sign of Jahnvi.
Countless visits to the nearby Police station, countless instances of refusal to help, countless prayers and half a decade later, there is still no information about Jahnvi. Her mother, though inconsolable, has not given up hope of her daughter’s return.
Jahnvi’s mother is just one of the thousands across the country who are hoping their missing children will be traced some day. Despite various measures taken by the government, the number of untraced children has witnessed a sharp increase. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs data, the number of missing children over the last five years has risen to a whopping 3.85 lakh across the country, and 40% of them still remain untraced.
The West Bengal scenario is no better. Our state is among the 4 states which together accounted for more than 60% of the missing children in the country, as per data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs. To be more accurate, the state of West Bengal reported 14,671 cases of missing children in 2014, which is more than 21% of the total cases reported in India. In other words, one in every 5 missing children in India is from West Bengal.
Looking at the scenario from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data lens, West Bengal is among the top 5 states in the country in Kidnapping & Abduction (K&A) of children and accounts for 6% of such cases in the country. Cases related to kidnapping and abduction of minors in the state has grown by a mercurial 608% over the last 5 years. Number of K&A cases in 2010 was 332 and over the last 5 years it rose to a whopping 2351 in West Bengal.
Another big area of concern is the gender skewing among missing children, as the MHA data reveals. Over 2010-2014, out of the 3.85 lakh children who went missing across the country, 61% were girls. A year-wise look at the gender-break up of missing children yields the following graph. We see that the share of girls is constantly 60% or more over the years. The situation is worse in West Bengal. Missing children data from 2014 shows that 70% of the children who went missing in the year were girls. Further analysis shows that around 40% of the missing children each year remained untraced.
A recent trend analysis done by CRY – Child Rights and You based on the NCRB data also shows that almost 75% of the cases related to procuration of minor girls across the country are concentrated in just 4 states in the East / NE region (WB, Assam, Bihar, Odisha), thus making this area a virtual hub of trafficking of minor girls. West Bengal alone accounts for more than 40% of the cases registered under Procuration of Minor Girls in India
It’s good that the state has recorded a decrease, however small it might be, in the number of missing children. But, Going by the current trend reflected in the Government data, West Bengal along with some other states continue to show worrying trends in cases related to missing children. There is a close linkage of missing children to organized crime. The magnitude of missing children in India and available on-ground evidence gathered by CRY over the last three and half decades indicate that large number of missing children are actually trafficked, kidnapped or abducted.
The Optional Protocol on Trafficking which states that trafficking is an organized crime has been recently signed by India (India signed the Protocol in December 2002, and ratified the same on 5th May 2011) thus acknowledging the link between missing and trafficked children.
However difficult it seems, at CRY, we do believe that these crimes can be prevented by all means. To achieve this, the most important step is to strengthen the existing safety-net for protection of children, and also to bring forth an overall protective environment for them, both in letter and spirit.
On-ground experience goes on to show that many of such cases are not duly reported, thus the actual magnitude of the issue can never be fully reflected from the existing data-base. Even though the recent Govt. initiatives like ‘Track Child’ and ‘Khoya Paya’ web portals are aiming at maintaining real-time data of all missing children containing extensive identification details to facilitate matching of missing and recovered children, the care-givers and the community should become more proactive in recording all such cases and take immediate action.
*Author is the Regional Director of CRY – Child Rights and You (East)