Bhopal: As many as 5,446 children were reported missing between January to July 2020 in Madhya Pradesh, of them 80% were girls, revealed a status report by Child Rights and You (CRY)
In its report named 'COVID and Missing Childhoods: A Status Report from 5 States,” the CRY stated that 4,371 girl children went missing in MP in the seven months, which is the highest among all the five northern states including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. The status report was released by CRY on the eve of International Missing Children’s Day, which is observed across the globe every year on May 25.
More girls were reported missing than boys in every state with the gap between them being maximum in Madhya Pradesh. On an average, 30 children were reported missing in MP per day in 2019 (National Crime Record Bureau), out of which 23 were girls, and only seven were boys. This variation continued in 2020 with 26 children being reported missing per day (January - July 2020) in the state.
According to the report, the possible reasons for variation are “sex trafficking, forced labour, forced child marriage, abandonment and domestic violence.”
Source: COVID AND MISSING CHILDHOODS: A Status Report from 5 States'
Both primary and the secondary data were used in the report to illustrate the state of missing children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondary data was accessed through the National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) annual report ‘Crime in India’ (2015-2019). During COVID-19, to find out the incidences of missing children, Right to Information (RTIs) was used to gather data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), Government and State Police Department of the respective States.
The study conducted to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic-led lockdown on the status of missing children revealed that a total 9,453 cases of missing children were reported in five states namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi between January-July 2020. Of these, 57% cases were alone from Madhya Pradesh.
The data reveals that the highest number of children who went missing were of age group 12-18 years. Out of 5,446 cases of missing children, 4,562 cases were of age group 12-18 years, accounting for 84% of all cases. The status report suggests that out of these 4,562 children, 89% (3,915 in absolute numbers) were girls.
Explaining the relevance of the study, Soha Moitra, the Regional Director, CRY (North), said, “The status report on missing children by CRY suggests that the numbers came down between March-April 2020 when lockdown was strictly imposed but surge in numbers were seen immediately after the relaxation in lockdown. The trend which raises concern is that the highest number of children who went missing were of age group 12-18 years. This accounts for 84% of overall cases.”.
Maximum children were reported missing in February 2020, i.e. pre-lockdown period. There was a drastic drop in the number of children reported missing during the lockdown months (March, April and May) with 271 children missing in April. But with the first ‘unlock’ phase in June, the number of missing children went up to 750.
Emphasising on the fact that the current health crisis has only aggravated the issue of missing children, Dr. Mohua Nigudkar, faculty of School of Social Work at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, said, "Due to the pandemic, the other implications in terms of loss of life and livelihood, rise in school dropouts, child marriages, children orphaned due to COVID related death of parents/guardian, and child trafficking have necessitated an even more urgent response to missing children.”
She further said, "Even prior to the pandemic, the issue of missing children has always been a serious concern in the area of child protection. Under the current situation, there is a need to conduct a quick survey on responses to missing children cases at the ground level. Getting into micro details of the challenges being faced by the police department and other key stakeholders in implementing the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is the need of the hour”.
Underlining the role of police in dealing with missing children cases, Dr PM Nair, former DGP and now with Indian Police Foundation, said, “Issues of missing children can be addressed only by concerted efforts. On one hand, prioritising and strengthening the law enforcement with professional investigation, bringing all traffickers to book. The linkages of source, transit and destination, along with the demand and supply links need to be broken.”
The former DGP pointed out that the police department needed augmentation of human and financial resources. “Accountability of the responders has to be brought in. Empower them with knowledge, skills, resources and the right attitude. Also, involve panchayats by setting up PAHT (Panchayats against human trafficking) and college students by setting up AHTC (Anti Human Trafficking Clubs) in colleges. This will provide great support to police and public in effectively assessing issues of missing children.”
(With inputs from Kashif Kakvi)