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By Rashme Sehgal

According to statistics compiled by the Institute of Social Sciences, a staggering 45,000 children go missing in India every year. Of these, 11,000 are never found


The macabre killings of young children in Noida’s Nithari village have brought the plight of India’s missing children into focus. According to statistics compiled by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), a staggering 45,000 children go missing in India every year. Of these, 11,000 are never found.

The most shocking revelation of this two-year study, titled ‘Trafficking of Women and Children in India’, compiled by Shankar Sen and P M Nair, with a team of ISS researchers, is that the graph of missing children continues to rise. In Delhi, in 2004, 6,227 children were reported missing, according to police reports; in 2006 the number of missing kids had climbed to 6,683.

Providing a break-up of the missing children, the ISS report highlights how in Maharashtra the number of missing kids in 2001 was 13,881, in Madhya Pradesh 4,915, in Karnataka 3,600, in Andhra Pradesh 2,007, and in Gujarat 1,624.

In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the number of missing kids has gone up by 1,000% within a five-year period, in Arunachal Pradesh it has risen by 883%, in Andhra Pradesh by 78%, in Assam by 151%, in Chhattisgarh by 83%, in Gujarat by 80%, in Haryana by 142%, in Tamil Nadu by 194%, and in Tripura by 300%.

Statistics provided by state police agencies show that in Rajasthan the number of children reported missing in 1996 was 154; in 2001 the number had shot up to 278. In Orissa, for the same period, the number of missing children was 419; by 2001 it had risen to 541. In Haryana, the figures are equally alarming. In 1996, the number of missing children was 64, but by 2001 the figure had gone up to 155.

CSOs working in the field estimate that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as only 10% of all cases are registered with the police. They say the numbers are much higher. Kiran Bedi, Director General, Bureau of Police, Research and Development, conceded that “the numbers of missing children who were being reported on child helplines were much more than the figures in police records”.

The report also highlights how the percentage of untraced persons continues to increase every year. In other words, the chances of locating missing people are steadily diminishing.

The metros continue to report the largest number of missing children. Delhi heads the list with the highest number of untraced kids, followed by Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bangalore. But while Kolkata and Hyderabad are not meeting with much success in tracing missing children, one exception has been Chennai, in terms of both numbers of missing kids and also ability to trace them. In a serious indictment of the state governments of West Bengal and Delhi, the report questions why 75% of missing children in Kolkata and 65% in Delhi “continue to remain untraced”.

The report adds that trafficking of women and children is also increasing in the states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Trafficking is a profitable business, with traffickers targeting low-income families. Kailash Sathyarthy of the NGO Bachpan Bacchao Andolan points out: “The maximum number of children being trafficked today belong to dalit, tribal and poor Muslim families that do not have the economic strength to put pressure on the police or political leaders.”

The survey involved interviews with 510 trafficked children who had been rescued by the police and NGOs and were living in homes. Forty per cent of the children said they had been trafficked when they were less than 10 years old; the rest were trafficked between the ages of 11 and 14. Half of these children had never been to school.

The children had been trafficked by family members or people who knew the family. Only 7% said they had been trafficked by total strangers. The children admitted that they had seen their parents or relatives accept money for them. In most cases, the traffickers had paid Rs 5,000 or less to acquire their human cargo.

(Rashme Sehgal is a Delhi-based journalist)

InfoChange News & Features, June 2007