Legal Law

India’s Missing Children: Kidnapped, Forced into Prostitution, or in Mafia-Run Beggar Gangs

In the news in Delhi for the past few weeks, there has been a big story on an old topic. The big story is about a suburb of Delhi, a pretty poor one called Nithari, where at least 30 children went missing for a couple of weeks. The parents went to the police who took details but apparently did nothing, blaming the indifferent parents or dismissing their claims and claiming the children had left of their own free will.

Angry mothers and fathers pushed harder and the media picked up the story. Suddenly there was a huge campaign to find the children, find the killer, bring the police to justice, and most of all try to stop the wave of children going missing in India.

As you read this, another half dozen or so children will be missing across the subcontinent. Although Mumbai has developed the dubious accolade of being the nation’s capital for child abduction, it happens everywhere. Delhi, by sheer virtue of its size, has the largest number: 6,227 a year on average. In total in the six main cities of the subcontinent, the average is 15,674, the population of a small town.

This is probably a huge underestimate if one looks beyond the major metropolitan centers. The last reliable figures were published in 2005 as part of a major report on trafficking in women and children in India prepared by PM Nair, a former CBI official who now works at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). ). Her figures show that 44,476 children went missing in 2005. Of the average of more than 15,000 missing from major cities, Nair found that more than 11,000 were still missing a year later.

The old story is the disappearance of children. The news is that the Indian parents who are the victims are being heard not only in the media but also in the government.

Pushpa Devi lives in Laxmi Nagar, no more than half an hour from Nithari. Like millions across the country, she watched the details unfold as the children’s remains were found; limbs, organ, bone pieces. Her daughter, Poonam Lal, disappeared 10 years ago when she was 17. Her mother was told that Poonam had probably run off with a boyfriend and therefore she was not missing. Poonam was eventually tracked down, but her mother knows the anguish and it was she and her husband who pushed for a series of do’s and don’ts that the Supreme Court produced. The main points are obvious: display mandatory photographic images in public places like train stations, in newspapers and on television, and at interstate bus stops; making adequate and extensive inquiries between possible clues and between states and offering a reward but it doesn’t happen. The 12-point list gathers dust as police forces in every state declare themselves helpless when asked: Where have the children gone?

Had they been abducted by aliens, the police could hardly have been more dismissive. While this particular group of unlucky youngsters ended up in back gardens and stream beds around Nithari, thousands of others ended up as cheap labor in roadside shops, prostitutes in a brothel, exploited in the child pornography industry. , kidnapped by the mob of beggars or even trafficked abroad.

It is impossible to get accurate statistics. None of the police forces in the various states have any means of compiling their separate databases of information, and even when they do, details are scant and often inaccurate. The disappearance of a child is a problem of the parents and minor. It will appear or it will not appear. We can’t do anything to help.

Judge AS Anand is a former head of the National Human Rights Commission of India. Of missing children, he says, “Obviously they haven’t vanished into thin air. Children are our asset and we only pay lip service to the missing child problem. Even when a missing child report is filed with the police, It’s treated as a misdemeanor.” Yet no one in the government seems to know how many children are going missing or even very clearly into which portfolio the problem might fall. Minister for Women’s and Children’s Welfare Renuka Chowdhary says she is “afraid” another Nithari could occur if action is not taken urgently.

This is where the old and the new stories converge because the truth is that there is no real surprise about the deaths on Nithar, for all the surprise factor. “It’s just a symptom,” says the director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). “Nithari shows the greatest discomfort and the failure of the system to respond. There has been a serious failure in all aspects. Nithari happened because the police failed at the first point of dispensing justice, the administration did not deliver a fair response from then and because society as a whole proved to be insensitive.”

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