By Amrita Paul:
“If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burden not your children or country with them.” — Richard Allen
India, as the second most populous country is a home to 19% of the world’s children. About 427 million children live in this country comprising for 42% of its population. But as they say, India is a country of contrasting realities. On one hand our economy is flourishing and on the other hand the average income of an Indian is not more than three thousand rupees. This renders a large part of the population vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and harm because of which we have at least 15 million children work as bonded labourers in India.
The issue of children missing from their homes is not new to this country but this issue has exacerbated over the years owing to widespread poverty, discrimination and exploitation of a certain section of the society. According to the Human Rights Commission (NHRC), approximately 45000 children go missing every year, one fourth of whom are never traced. West Bengal comes second in the list of the state with the most number of missing children (Maharashtra ranks first) where 16000 children go missing every year.
“They said-‘you are old, we will not take you.”
Various studies have identified Bengal as a major source, transit and destination for child trafficking and because of this we need to know what exactly what motivates so many parents to send their children away with people they barely know. According to a recent research, 67% of the children missing were girls and 33% were boys. Majority of the children were between 15- 18 years of age with an educational background of up to 5th standard. While 83% of the children left home for work, 11.67% were taken out under the pretext of marriage. But the most surprising fact is that only 16% of the cases were reported to the police or the panchayat as the rest of the parents had tried to get information on the child themselves or through other contacts.
“No, I haven’t spoken to anyone about this. But whenever I pass by that area I visit ‘them’ in the hope that they will be able to give me news about my daughter.”
In districts like North and South 24 Parganas about 49.54% of the children were reported missing over two years. And hence the question arises as to —“when do the parents of missing children realise that their wards are not traceable?” This bring us to the ‘Modus Operandi’ which is followed in most areas due to which so many children go missing every year. Every village has a group of people who come and offer work to parents of the girl children. Majority of children are sent away with these contractors while the others are trafficked by their own relatives. There is a hierarchy of people who work behind such an enormous flesh trade in return of a commission. There have been instances where their agents have prospered so much that they have migrated to Delhi. Having said that, – ‘befriending parents of vulnerable families is the key to this business.’ The process takes time and involves a lot of financial investment in order to make the parents believe in these agents but finally they give into it and send their children off to fend for themselves in exchange of a meagre amount of money.
“How can we approach the police? We get scared only by seeing them.”
Parents tend to have limited interaction with their children after they have left home. And mostly the children are kept from letting their folks know about their whereabouts. It was seen that around 73% of the respondents attributed to the absence of communication to ascertain that their child was missing, as for the others the children just left home and did not return. And inspite of that the parents keep hoping that the children will return someday instead of just reporting the matter to the police. But the ones who did complain were not provided much assistance for the same. The common remarks were,-“Why did you send your child out. You don’t care about your children. You are only concerned because you have not received money.” Even a FIR is denied to the people unless the person responsible for taking the child is identified. So what happens ultimately to these children? Do they fade into oblivion, forever?
It has been noticed that these children are mostly taken to metropolitans like Delhi, Kolkata and are made to work under tremendous pressure (both physical and mental.) Also, many agencies after recruiting the girls changed their names, thus making the process of tracing the missing girls even more complex. Thus, we not only have to stress on the fact that such cases are reported to the police but ensure that the police take this forward and try and track the children to the best of their abilities. For this purpose there should be a Child Welfare Officer in every police station who is in charge of keeping records of children and also maintain the clues procured during the investigation process. Hence, the officers should be trained and provided technical support in order to help them serve the community better. Even if it is just a GD, the officers must take an effort to follow up on the given case. Also the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) must update itself from time to time so that the information flow is constant and accurate. At state level an officer of DIG rank should be in charge of the missing children and review the status of the investigations of these children on a quarterly basis. Lastly, let us be reminded of the Nithari case and promise ourselves that we will take care of our children better, build our own safety network and protect them from perpetrators who are on the lookout for destroying the lives of these young minds, forever.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.