A reflection upon increasing societal apathy and systemic failure of the law enforcement agencies
On 08th December 2011, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) launched its latest research report “Missing Children of India”. This report is a compilation of the data collected from official agencies like National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the National Human Rights Commission, various child rights groups and information obtained under the Right to Information Act. The data was collected across 392 districts of India for the period January 2008 to January 2010. The findings reveal that 1, 17,480 children were missing as per the official police records in the districts under consideration. The report further highlights that out of the total children that went missing in these 392 districts, 41,546 still remain untraced. The NCRB figure of offenses registered under sections 363 to 373 of Indian Penal Code show that only 16,595 cases have been registered.
The report outlines that out of the very many causes of children going missing, the more prominent ones include trafficking of children for forced labour/ bonded labour and slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, adoption rackets, organ trade / illegal medical testing, forced marriages and for other crimes like begging/ drug peddling. Social perceptions including gender bias, demographical issues like lack of education, poor socio-economic conditions are some other compelling reasons that could be attributed to missing children.
Speaking at the launch, the Chairperson of Global March Against Child Labour and Founder of BBA, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi highlighted the four gaps namely policy gap, knowledge gap, coordination gap and moral deficit as major roadblocks in the way of addressing the burgeoning issue of missing children at its roots. On the policy level, Mr. Satyarthi said that India is yet to have a clear definition of missing children on one hand and that of trafficking on the other. These two issues being intertwined, it is absolutely ironic that a missing child doesn’t even find a place in our legislative framework unless a complaint is filed for kidnapping or abduction under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In terms of knowledge gap, Mr. Sathyarthi said that in the absence of a specialized agency entrusted with gathering, managing, processing and disseminating information it is difficult to get any breakthrough in cases related to missing children. He further stated that National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) which maintains crime data at the national level has no specific focus on missing children. Explaining the coordination gap, Mr. Satyarthi said that collaboration and coherence between various agencies responsible for the protection of child rights e.g. Local Police, Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs), Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), children’s homes, shelter homes, District Legal Services Authorities, Child Rights Commissions, NGOs, child help-lines etc is clearly lacking.
Mr. Satyarthi cited public apathy as the biggest manifestation of moral deficit. He further said that insensitive attitude of police and investigating agencies is indeed shameful. Law enforcement agencies and the society often perpetuate certain stereotypes especially in case of missing adolescent girls, by insensitively accusing them to have eloped with their paramours. This creates further reluctance among apprehensive parents in lodging complaints with the police.
Echoing the concerns raised by Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Mr Sunil Krishna (Director General, National Human Rights Commission) said “Police and law and enforcement agencies do not take the cases seriously. There is a dearth of agencies for collecting and disseminating the data on missing children”.
Dr. P.M. Nair, IPS, ADG, CRPF (operations) addressing the audience at the event said, “Either we are part of the problem or the solution. It is for everyone in society to take action against all forms of exploitation of children. Only when demand stops, supply is curtailed”.
Releasing the book, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Altamas Kabir said that "Defining the term 'missing children' is difficult but not impossible”. He emphasized upon the linkage of the legal services authorities at national, state, district and block levels for effectively addressing the issue of missing children.
Simultaneous to the book launch, Bachpan Bachao Andolan unveiled a website on missing children (www.incmec.org). Indian centre for Missing and Exploited Children (INCMEC) is a web based platform for sharing information about missing and trafficked children.