Among the lakhs of people that walk the city’s streets every day are hundreds of children who have gone missing from their homes. Some wander lost, some join business establishments as cheap labour, others fall prey to organised gangs or trafficking. Some are reunited with their parents, many are not.
At least four children aged between 8 and 14 disappear in the city every day, data by the Mumbai police shows. Between January 2010 and April 18 this year, 5,198 children had gone missing in Mumbai. Of these, 4,185 were traced while 383 are yet to go back home.
The rest of the state presents a more dismal picture. As many as 15 go missing every day, according to state police statistics — 11,428 children from Maharashtra had gone missing in the past two years. Of these, 8,961 were traced.
Maharashtra had the highest number of missing child cases in the country, data compiled by New Delhi-based NGO Bachpan Bachao Aandolan showed, which pegged the number of missing children in India at 2.17 lakh in three years, of which 75,000 remain untraced.
But the real trouble lies in the abysmal number of FIRs registered — only 98 for the 5,198 cases in the city since 2010. In the rest, only ‘missing reports’ were filed. The Supreme Court, in a set of guidelines issued in May this year, said an FIR should be filed for every missing child case, regardless of situation.
“Forget registering an FIR, earlier the police would not even make a dairy entry. Only in cases where the child was from an influential background would the police register an FIR and investigate the case,” alleged Chetan Kothari, an RTI activist.
Former IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said many children remained untraced because of lack of sincerity on the part of the police. “The ‘traced’ figure in Mumbai is high because many children come back home, not because the police find them. Earlier, police stations would file a missing report and sit on it assuming it was the job of the missing persons bureau to trace the children. That is reflected in the number of FIRs registered,” he said.
Many, however, felt the SC order might herald a change in the way the police approach missing cases. “When an FIR is registered, it becomes difficult for the police to close cases without investigating them. This will create a definite change in the scenario,” Singh said.
Kothari, however, disagreed. “I do not think much will change. The police will come up with excuses for their inaction despite registering the FIR,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sadanand Date, joint commissioner of police, law and order, said the state home department had issued guidelines to police stations across the state on the investigation of the missing children cases based on the SC order. “Now, FIRs are being registered in every case,” he added.