There’s nothing new about children fleeing home. But when on an average 17 children vanish every day from colonies, by lanes and shantytowns of Delhi, sometimes five or six at a time from a particular place, alarm is inevitable.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights last Wednesday asked the police to investigate and slap kidnapping charge in each case where the child is not found.
“The sudden spurt in Delhi children going missing is of grave concern. One cannot rule out the involvement of sex or organ-trading rackets,” said commission chairperson Amod Kanth. The Delhi police are setting up a new child helpline this week.
The unexplained rise in the number of disappearing children becomes even more alarming when compared to the modest figure of six to seven reports of missing kids filed every day over the last five years.
“In the last six months (between June 1, 2008 and January 12, 2009) 2,210 children were reported missing. Meanwhile, in the entire five-year period prior to it, only 9,632 children had been reported missing. Out of which 7,422 were found,” said Reena Banerjee of the Alliance for People’s Right, an organization formed by various NGOs working for child welfare.
Suspecting that the missing children may be falling prey to organ trafficking gangs or are being kidnapped for cheap labour, Kanth has issued a strict directive to the Delhi police to step up their investigation in these cases. “I have sent a notice to the commissioner of Delhi police and all district commissioners of police telling them to submit a report to the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights within 15 days. I want them to be very focused about investigating the 2,503 children who have been reported missing in the past one year and 17 days. Only 368 children have been recovered so far. Where have the others gone? It’s alarming that children have been regularly disappearing from certain pockets and localities in Delhi. There are people who might be behind the vanishing acts,” said Kanth.
He wants that if a child is not found within two to three days, then a case of kidnapping should be registered.
However, the Delhi police don’t see a trend in these cases. “This is not a trend as the missing children do not belong to any specific cluster. Though the compilation of data regarding missing children in Delhi is going on, we have observed that a majority of them are aged between 12 and 18 years. So they could have run away from home for many reasons, including elopement. We are more concerned about those missing children who are under eight years of age. But we have been able to track 95 per cent of them,” said Delhi police PRO Rajan Bhagat.
Meanwhile, NGOs working in this field are up in arms against the alleged police apathy. “The Nithari incident should have been an eye-opener for the police. But that is not the only incidence in the National Capital Region of children being victimized. In many cases which go unreported, missing children are driven into sex and drug trafficking rackets. They are also forced into terror activities,” said Director of NGO Sarthak Ramesh Pranesh, who is a member of the Alliance for People’s Right.
Pranesh said that his NGO has tried collecting information regarding these children through RTI petitions but instead of replying, the police tried to suppress data. “The police ask for extra charges to reveal information. Recently, they asked us to pay about Rs 25,000 to get information on some of these kids,” said Pranesh.