1090 children of the age of 16 or under went missing from Delhi in 2016 Photograph:( Others )
14-year-old Annu* taken on her way to school to write her exams. A 26-year-old man, married with a child, convinced her to run away with him, with promises of marriage and a better life. Annu's mother knew the man who had sweet-talked her daughter away, he was a distant relative from their village. She filed a FIR with the local police station and begged them to get her only daughter back to her. Annu was brought back about 15 days later and her abductor was put in jail but only for a few days. Annu's abductor had money and paid his way out of the charge of statutory rape of a minor and kidnapping. Now Annu is at home
“Her life is ruined. I failed as a mother, first in protecting my child and then from getting justice,” says her mother.
Annu can no longer go to school where she is heckled, neither can she go back to her village because her abductor comes from the same village. He has gone back to his life, to his wife and child, Annu is living in uncertainty, not sure what is next for her.
Annu is one of the few children that went missing who had been brought back to her parents. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1090 children under the age of 16 went missing from Delhi in 2016. Track The Missing Child is a centralised portal created by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to provide information about missing children across the country. Every police station uploads information on to the portal with the intention to help locate children who have been taken to different states or cities. However, one issue of gravest concern is that many police stations do not update the portals. So, the number of missing children is not always accurate. According to the site, there were 38,668 children that went missing in Delhi from end 2011 till date, only 9949 of them have been found. It means a mere 25 per cent has been returned to the safe custody of their home.
Annu can no longer goes to school where she is heckled, neither can she go back to her village because her abductor comes from the same village
Raju* disappeared from inside his house while his father, Amar*, was away at work. He filed a complaint but when nothing happened, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He tracked his son to the house of an ice cream seller who led him to a house owned by a few ladies. Luckily Amar found his son just before the ladies left for Kolkata. There were 4 other boys in the house, Amar took his son and left, and later informed the police. The other 4 boys had already disappeared and the police “shouted at the ladies and accused them of trafficking children and then left.”
According to government data, almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in 2016. In 2011, a country report about India by ECPAT International, a Thailand-based civil society that works to end the sexual exploitation of children, noted that 1,50,000 women and children were trafficked from South Asia, most of them from, to or via India. The figure released by the government seems like quite a conservative one, or most of these cases go unreported.
The government takes the possibility of child trafficking seriously, which is why a FIR is lodged under Section 363 of the Indian Penal Code (Kidnapping). Additional DCP of Delhi said, “it is assumed that every child that goes missing has been trafficked, and we begin (an) investigation immediately. About 80-90% of the children are either recovered or come back on their own. There are drives conducted to find the ones that aren't recovered immediately.”
The terrifying reality of a missing child is that there are few good things that could have happened to them. From being sold into prostitution or as slave labour to trafficked overseas, each possibility seems like a nightmarish situation. A large number of the children that go missing are from the low-income groups. In cases like Annu's and Raju's where the police did not do as much as they could have, it is frightening to think of how many children could have been saved had there been a thorough investigation.
There is a perception that there is police apathy because many of these children's families are poor or that a child from a family with means would have more police resources dedicated to their recovery. Police personnel is quick to point out that this is just perception, and a missing child is always a priority, no matter the kid's background. Their supposed 80-90% recovery rate defends their statement but the recovery numbers mentioned on the missing children portal tells a different story. A story that is sad and scary.
*Names have been changed.