When a child goes missing

Nilanjana Sengupta[ 29 Jan, 2007 1458hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

It is not easy to trace a missing child in India. The possibilities are endless — the child may have been kidnapped or may have run away from home. If a girl, she could have been a victim of trafficking. Falling prey to organ transplant rackets or child sacrifices cannot be ruled out either. At times, it takes months, even years, before the parents are re-united with their lost child. Often, the child never returns. In all this, the worst affected are the parents. For them it is a fate worse than death. There is no finality, no closure. Each passing day an ordeal. As parents run from pillar to post, time stands still at the point when they had last seen their missing child. “It was the Sunday after Navratri,” says 38-year-old Kalpana Pashte, who has not slept well since the fateful day in October last year. Her eyes are swollen and have dark circles around them. When she has to weep, she rushes to a corner of her brother’s one-bedroom house in Jogeshwari and remembers her only son Yogesh in silence. The mother and son, who stay in Raigad, were visiting relatives in Mumbai. Yogesh disappeared after he told his mother that he was going down in the building to play. Now, Kalpana says she won’t return to her village until she finds Yogesh. The 12-year-old is just one of the countless children who go missing in this country every year. Like many unimportant things, there is no record of the actual number of missing children. As per a 2004 study on trafficking commissioned by the NHRC, about 44,476 children go missing every year. But experts say that the figure could easily be around 10 lakh. According to the Missing Persons Bureau in Mumbai, seven out of ten missing complaints turn out to be a case of run away. “Parents keep thinking it’s a case of kidnapping, but more often than not the children run away because of study pressure, etc. In two days, after their anger dissipates, they come back,” says a policeman, shrugging. Also, a missing child complaint does not come under cognisable offences. That’s why it is at the lowest of the police’s priority list. The complaint is only important to the person reporting it. In all this, the police oscillate between being helpful and lackadaisical. Sometimes they conduct field enquiries at guest houses, hospitals, railway stations, airport, bus stands, cinema houses, parks and gardens. At other times they hand out emotional ditties to parents who make rounds of the police station for news. “The policeman tells me, ‘Your child is like our child, don’t worry he will come back,’” says Kalpana. While the police treat each missing complaint with clinical precision — note it in their diary and post the photograph of the missing on the online network — every minute is precious for the parent. Post-Nithari, where the remains of about 40 people, most of them children, unearthed a tale of sleaze and horror, the fears of a missing child’s parents have only compounded. Sometimes the ordeal refuses to end even after the parents have found their missing child. Surat’s Vinod Gehlot traced his two-and-a-half-year old daughter who was missing for 18 months, to an orphanage in Trivandrum thanks to a television report. But now he has to undergo a DNA test before he can claim his child. When the hopeful father landed at Trivandrum, he was asked to take court permission where the chief judicial magistrate then ordered him to take the test. “I think my daughter has already been adopted by someone and to prevent complications, the authorities are forcing me to take a DNA test,” says the small-time medical practitioner. Trafficking is one of the possibilities that parents of missing girls have to contemplate. “Some people say that my daughter may have been lured into faltu things. But I don’t think that’s the case. A holy man near Malad told me that she will come back soon,” says Abhimanyu Sahu, a film-set painter and father of a 5-year-old girl who has been missing for the past four months. “If a girl under 18 is reported missing then the chance of her having landed in a brothel is high,” says an official of the Mumbai Missing Persons Bureau. According to a survey conducted by Bhumika Bihar, an NGO in Patna, almost 30% of the children missing from various villages in the state are adolescent girls. Thirteen-year-old Bina Mistry disappeared from her house in Patna over two years ago. Her father Nageshwar believes that she was lured away by somebody. “Initially, the police had even refused to lodge an FIR. We were told not to give birth to children if we could not look after them,” says Nageshwar. For the police to take more interest in the missing, laws have to change. The police are unlikely to act unless the complainant has strong suspicions and ideas about the disappearance. “If there is no offence what will the investigating officer investigate? Most of the time the child runs away to become a film star or for employment,” says a policeman from the UP State Task Force. “The police are more involved in managing crises and VIP bandobasts than in normal policing. We need a systematic change, but nobody is interested in reforms,” says Kiran Bedi. Till then, parents carry on with their efforts. “Someone was telling me there is a children’s home in Bhiwandi. Do you think I should go there and see?”asks Kalpana, with hope in her tired eyes. (Inputs by Hitarth Pandya in Surat and Madhuri Kumar in Patna)

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