With Naxalites around, cops here have no time to track missing kids

Indian Express, Feb 15,2007

Raipur, February 14 :• Days before Holi in 2003, 5-year-old Anju went missing while playing with friends outside her home. Ever since, Sushila and Anil Tandi, her parents, have been making daily rounds of the Khamardih police station. Sushila now doesn’t let her other two children out of sight. Anil has searched Nagpur, Bhopal, Gwalior, even Delhi but has had no luck. “Whenever I approach the police, they tell me, ‘Tumhari beti ko dhoondhne ke alawa aur koi kaam nahi hai kya hamare paas’ (Do you think we have no other work than to look for your daughter?)”. So whenever Anil manages to save money, he sets out in search of his daughter himself.
• Six-year-old Sonia Rao went missing on August 14 last year while on her way home from school in Raipur.She was later found in Nagpur, where she had been sold by child-lifters within hours of her abduction. But it wasn’t the police who sniffed her out. Sonia’s mother, Sharda Rao, led a crowd from her colony to the Collectorate and police station for two days to mount pressure on the administration. “I was shattered but knew that if I didn’t act quickly chances of seeing my daughter again were slim.” The pressure tactics worked, teams went out and Sonia was traced to an orphanage in Nagpur where she had been kept by the Maharashtra Police. Three persons were arrested on charges of involvement in trafficking. It’s another matter that the Chhattisgarh Police learnt of Sonia’s return almost six days later.
The police do not maintain records on the number of children missing in Chhattisgarh. However, there seems to be a pattern in the disappearance of children there. Social activists confirm that most of these abductions are linked to the flesh trade and most of the victims are minor girls. “A majority of these children are taken to nearby towns where they are thrown into prostitution,” said Dr Ilina Sen, member of the Committee Against Violence on Women. “We have often demanded that policing should be increased in certain vulnerable areas of the state. However, the authorities plead there is a shortage of manpower,”
NGOs involved in women and child welfare estimate that only 10 per cent of kidnappings are registered with the police. Which means that the actual numbers could be much higher than the police figures of around 650 children missing during 2006 and about 620 in 2005. “As most complainants in tribal areas are illiterate, they cannot differentiate between lodging a complaint and a First Information Report. All that the police do is make a daily diary entry and issue the complainants non-cognisable receipts, telling them that a ‘case’ has been registered. Since an FIR adds to the crime statistics, the police tend to nip the trouble in the bud,” Anita Gupta, a social activist, alleged.
According to the police themselves, there are gangs in the state that lift children to be sold to brothels in other towns. The recovery of Sonia was a case in point. Tehrunissa, Sheikh Maksood and Ramesh, members of an inter-state trafficking gang, were arrested for kidnapping and selling Sonia. They confessed during interrogation that they were active in Chhattisgarh for the past couple of years. “The accused used to abduct children from Raipur and sell them in the red light districts of Nagpur and in other cities,” a senior police officer said. Since the arrest of the three, police have also decided to increase their interaction with their counterparts in neighbouring states to check the trafficking.
That may be an important step forward since there is no Chhattisgarh Police cell to deal with cases of missing children. The Chhattisgarh Police claims that its priority is the Naxal menace and child recovery isn’t high on their to-do list. This despite the Chhattisgarh Police circulating the Supreme Court guidelines on missing children, which directs the local police to act immediately in such cases. “Currently the local police has been entrusted with the job of locating missing children and we don’t think there is any need for a specialised cell to deal with the issue,” said Additional Director General of Police (CID) S K Paswan. He claimed that they were in the process of compiling the statistics and said the information would be available “shortly”.
When The Indian Express tried to seek the version of DGP O P Rathor, he refused to speak on the issue, firmly saying that no data could be provided on missing children in Chhattisgarh. “I do not want a Nithari-like panic in my state,” Rathor retorted.
Despite the constant reference to the chilling happenings at Nithari and the increasing incidences of crimes against children in Chhattisgarh, Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam also felt that there was no need for the creation of a separate cell to deal with such cases. “We need to understand that the local police is competent in handling the situation,” he said.
It is no wonder then that over 5,000 children have gone missing in Chhattisgarh in the past decade, an alarming 70 percent of them girls. The parents of the victims get very little help from the administration and the search for missing children is almost entirely a family pursuit. A lot of parents, especially in the lower rungs of society, have learnt to cope with the danger in the only way they can; they seldom allow their children to venture out alone.

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