Over 3.22 lakh children were reported missing across the country since 2011 till April this year, out of which 1.41 lakh have remained untraced.
As per information provided by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, as many as 73,549 children went missing in 2014 in the country, while this number was 15,988 till April this year. Out of them, 31,711 remained untraced in 2014, while 6,921 remained untraced till April this year.
The increasing number of missing children has been a matter of concern in the country. In 2011, as many as 906,554 children went missing, while this number was 65,038 in 2012 and 77,721 in 2013.
As per information, West Bengal remained at the top where number of untraced missing children remained 7,984 in 2014, followed by Maharashtra where this number was 5,226 and Delhi 3,223. In all the three states, the number of girls was more than the boys.
Interestingly, there was no report of missing children in Bihar and Jharkhand in 2014. This year too, there was not a single case of missing children in the two states till April this year, as per an RTI reply by Ministry of Women and Child Development to activist Gopal Prasad. In June 2013, the Supreme Court had directed all the states that an FIR must be registered in all cases of children going missing. The apex court had also directed that not even a single complaint of a missing child should go unnoticed.
However, child rights activists believe that many cases of missing children go unreported. Child rights activist and founder chairperson of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Swami Agnivesh said the real number would be at least double the government figures. Agnivesh told The Sunday Guardian: “This has become a major problem in the country. Most of the missing children are girls. Most of them who go missing are either forced to become child labour or sent to prostitution. Some are forced to beg. In some cases, their body organs are used for transplant. It is a much bigger problem than terrorism.” He said instead of going to the root cause of the problem, the government treats the syndrome. “Poverty is the root cause and every effort should be made to bridge the gap between rich and the poor. Most of the children go missing because of poverty,” he said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs headed by Rajnath Singh has launched “Operation Smile”, a special drive aimed at stepping up efforts by the different state police and women and child departments to rescue missing children. It has been found that in many cases, the missing children were traced to shelter homes and there was no effort by the shelter homes to get the children to reunite with their parents for the allurement of government grants.
The ministry has asked the state governments to train police officers at various ranks about issues related to missing children, POSCO Act, Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Child Rights Acts. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched a citizen-centric portal called “Khoya Paya”. The portal enables citizens to report missing children as well as sightings of their whereabouts. “Found” children can also be reported.