With 60,000 children going missing in India every year, social media has propelled child lifting fear | india news

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On average, a child goes missing every 10 minutes in India, according to the women and child development ministry website for tracking missing children. At this rate, around 54,750 children would have been reported missing in the last one year in India and only about half of them would have been traced, if one goes by the police record on the missing children.

This startling data could be considered nemesis of the mob lynching incidents over suspicion of the child lifting gangs in the Hindi heartland, which has high incidence of children going missing for a population of one lakh than other parts of India.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on missing children for 2016 — the last available record — reports higher number of missing children (63,407) than what is estimated through WCD ministry’s child tracking website.

The NCRB also throws up some other startling figures such as that 1,11,569 children were missing for more than a year in 2016 and only about half of the missing children were found.

India is home to more than 400 million children below the age of 18 years, and is considered one of the countries in which youth and children comprise more than 55% of the population. These missing children represent diverse cultures, religions, castes, communities, social and economic groups.

According to childline, the national helpline for children, despite best efforts of the government countless children go ‘missing’ every year without a trace of them.

It says the cases of missing children represent a conglomeration of problems — abductions/kidnappings by family members, abductions/kidnappings carried out by non-family members or strangers, children who run away on their own or are forced to run away due to compelling circumstances in their families and extended surroundings and children who are trafficked or smuggled or exploited for various purposes.

The number on record of the missing children is tip of an iceberg considering that many cases of missing children are not reported or not recorded by the police, especially in rural areas, despite the National Human Rights Commission’s clear directions to investigate every case with full seriousness.

The Supreme Court in 2013 also mandates that the police register an FIR of kidnapping when they receive a missing child complaint, the non-government organisations claim that there is still “huge hesitation on the part of the police” to investigate the cases in right earnest. There are many instances, where missing children complaints are often dismissed by telling families that their child may have run away and will come back soon.

When the police is not so responsive to the complaints of missing children, the people tend to believe in social media communication on child lifting gangs active in their regions. Most of the cases of mob lynching of persons suspected to be child lifters have happened in places, from where the a child has gone missing and the police has not acted positively on the missing complaint.

In the last two months or so, a large number of incidents of suspected child lifters being killed or badly beaten have been reported from western Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Bihar. The number of such could well be over 100.

In last one week, 20 incidents of beating of suspected child lifters have been reported from western Uttar Pradesh. In Asalatpur Jarai village of Sambhal district, two siblings — Ramautar and Raju — were thrashed mercilessly on Tuesday when they were taking their nephew Ravi to a hospital for treatment. In Kanpur on Wednesday, a health worker was beaten when she was taking a child to a healthcare centre. Rural parts of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Shamli, Ghaziabad and Hapur are said to be under grip of child lifting gang rumours.

In Bihar, about 30 such incidents have been reported in local media since August 1, in which, a couple of persons were lynched. In Jharkhand, a dozen incidents of beating of suspected child lifters have been reported. Similar sporadic incidents have been reported from Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal and Rajasthan although intensity was not as high as in Bihar, UP or Jharkhand.

In most of these cases, the messages of gory pictures of treatment of children after abduction on communication apps, created panic among locals, leading to assault of an unknown person with a child. Bhisam Tyagi, pradhan of Bihuni village of Garhmukteshwar, tells how the rumour spreads: “A week ago, a villager had gone to the nearby village Athseni where he was told about the movement of a child lifting gang. Within no time, the news had spread everywhere here.”

Not new, as a similar trend of spreading of fake news through social media took place in 2017 and 2018 in the Hindi heartland, when an image of a child been brandished by a hot iron rod going viral. In most cases, the police found the image was from Pakistan. Some websites claimed that over 50 persons suspected to be child lifters were killed in 2018, including two youth by a mob in Assam. HT could not independently verify the claim as the government has not released any updated data on crimes including lynching in India after 2016. But, the fact remains that the speed with which such “fake” news spreads through new age communication tools is difficult for the police to comprehend, which is caught in age-old policing methods.

The 2016 NRCB data shows that the highest number of missing child reports lodged with the police were also from these states, which also have high number of mob lynching incidents. In 2016, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Rajasthan reported higher number of missing children as compared to southern states. A study, Sociologies of India’s Missing Children, published in an online journal Research Gate on August 14, 2019 shows that most of the missing children are from poor background and most of them are trafficked to work as bonded labourers or in the brothels. The incidence of girls going missing was found to be higher than boys in the study.

Although the link between rumours about child lifting gangs and missing children in India appear to be tenuous, the issue surely needs more research. The police can deal with such rumours only if its pay heed to every missing child complaint and ensure that trafficking gangs operating in the poorer rural parts of India are sternly dealt with.

India should strengthen trafficking law, as suggested by Justice Verma committee because the present law (Immoral Trafficking Act, 1956) only criminalises trafficking for purpose of prostitution. The committee recommended that provisions of the Indian Penal Code on slavery should be amended to criminalise trafficking by threat, force or inducement. It also wanted criminalizing employment of a trafficked person.

First Published:
Aug 30, 2019 07:59 IST

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