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INDIA’S CHILDREN: LOST FOREVER?

– Shanti Nair, Intern, Christ University

One missing child is one too many

John Walsh

May 25th 1983 was a historic day.

It was on that very same day that President Ronald Reagan declared it to be “National Missing Children’s Day” in memory of young Etan Patz.[1].  Slowly, the world started waking up to the worst fears that plague millions of parents be it in the US or any other country around the world. Due to the efforts of International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC)[2], Missing Children Europe[3] and European Commission, in 2001, May 25th was internationally recognised as International Missing Children’s Day (IMCD).The forget-me-not flower is the emblem of this day.

If you go by statistic you can find that;

• In Australia, an estimated 20,000 children are reported missing every year.

• In Canada, an estimated 45,288 children are reported missing each year.

• In Germany, an estimated 100,000 children are reported missing each year.

• In India, an estimated 96,000 children go missing each year.

• In Jamaica, an estimated 1,984 children were reporting missing in 2015.

• In Russia, an estimated 45,000 children were reported missing in 2015.

• In Spain, an estimated 20,000 children are reported missing every year.

• In the United Kingdom, an estimated 112,853 children are reported missing every year.

• In the United States, an estimated 460,000 children are reported missing every year[4].

These are the official reports while one cannot even fathom the number that goes missing and unreported.

As the issue gained international prominence many organisations across the world came together with various mechanisms to reduce the number of missing children globally. One of these initiatives is the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN).  It is a partnership between 25 countries in order to form a database of missing children with their pictures and relevant details. GMCN is a made up of multitude of websites that feed into a ‘multilingual central database’. According to the website[5] Members are trained and given access to a website interface which allows them to:

 Customize their country’s website to meet individual needs.

 Link to the network and access the database to display information and photos of missing children in their country.

 Create posters quickly and easily using the information entered.

Poster content on the Global Missing Children’s Network website pages is managed solely by the foreign agency or organization that is responsible for running their country’s website.’

Along the same lines the Government of India set up a National Tracking System for missing and vulnerable children in the year 2012. The issue of missing children and the inadequate measures existing came to the limelight with the Nithari case 2006[6]. The Ministry of Women and Child Development proposed the idea of a national database for missing children and with the help of the National Informatics Centre set up a pilot project for the same in West Bengal. West Bengal was reported to have 500 cases of missing children annually. After introducing the site there were 15,000 cases reported out of which 30% of the children were tracked using this system[7]. Using Bengal as their success story the Ministry then launched the programme nationwide.

Close along the heels of this initiative came Khoya Paya, a citizen portal to track the missing child, launched in the presence of Maneka Gandhi and the then Union minister of Communication and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad. ‘The Khoya Paya website is an enabling platform, where citizens can report missing children, as well as sightings of their whereabouts without wasting much time. The ‘Found’ children can also be reported on this web portal. The reporting can be done through text, photographs, videos and other means of transmitting and uploading information to the KhoyaPaya site[8]. The need for such a portal was to give citizen an outlet to report a missing child and search in the database for a missing child. Track Child was said to be a forum where the ‘police communicates with police’.

Yet, the existence of such a site raises a lot of questions.

According to Child Rights and You (CRY)[9], an NGO based in India, two out of three missing children remain untraced in a period of three years. These numbers are both sombre and startling considering the adequate mechanisms in place to prevent this very thing from happening. So where exactly have we gone wrong considering now we have tried to implement a nationwide database of missing children?

There are no official numbers as to how many children have benefitted from having such a database and hence a comparison to the previous years does not exist. First off, the need for a separate site such as Khoya Paya when Track Child exists is extremely confusing. To have multiple databases creates a lot more problems than solutions. Multiple sites are used in different states by the police and sometimes by NGOs further adds to the confusion. For example, HomLink is a site run by Young at Risk which offers a similar platform like Khoya Paya. So, with the problem of existing multiple sites unsolved how exactly can the official ones function?

Secondly, Khoya Paya facilitates citizen to citizen contact. To have sensitive information regarding a child to be made available to anyone or everyone who uses the site can have disturbing consequences. This kind of citizen-citizen contact will lead to the authorities being kept out of the loop. With this happening it is unclear as to who will oversee the process. The terms and conditions of the site states that the portal “does not authenticate or vet, any information provided by the users,” hence anybody can get access to this site if they posses an adhaar id and a phone number.

With such information being available online it can be used in, extreme but not unheard of cases, extorting parents for money using their child as bait. Also the lax security measures that allows anyone to access the police database from Track Child site, where a name can be typed and the rest of the information will just follow regarding every child that has gone missing with that name. This information can be used by traffickers by now knowing which children are unaccompanied or declared missing. Also when you see a child and would like to report would you log in, verify and then report or take the child to the nearest authorities? It would help if the ministry had counter measure for such scenarios.

Every initiative for a child is a good thing as we need more attention, effort and time to be spent on issues regarding children as they represent our tomorrow. Yet initiatives with no proper groundwork or well thought out implementation plans cause more danger than being a solution to the issues.

References

[1] In the year 1979, a boy named Etan Patz went missing on his way to school in New York City. This incident ignited large scale concern for missing Children worldwide and hence prompting the declaration from the President in the year 1983. Read more about the case at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/nyregion/what-happened-to-etan-patz.html

[2] https://www.icmec.org/global-missing-childrens-center/imcd/

[3] http://missingchildreneurope.eu/ 

[4] http://globalmissingkids.org/awareness/missing-children-statistics/

[5] http://www.missingkids.com/GMCN

[6]It was a case of gruesome serial killings that took place in Nithari. http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Child/2007/nithari.html

[7] http://trackthemissingchild.gov.in/trackchild/readwrite/News_Clippings/Web_portal_to_help_track_missing_kids_Hindustan_Times.pdf

[8] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=122228

[9] http://www.cry.org/

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