When a group of children visiting a temple in northeast Delhi on Monday afternoon complained of a foul smell, locals opened the desert cooler installed in the premises and found a body.
The body was that of seven-year-old Sahil, a Class 1 student who had gone missing on Saturday afternoon while playing outside his home in Ganga Vihar.
Immediately after a missing complaint was lodged, police swung into action. Posters were put up and announcements made through public address system, but it was too late.
Just a day before Sahil vanished, the government had told Parliament that more and more missing children were going untraced in India. Simply put, now more children are lost forever than they were a few years ago.
Data from 24 states shows that 15,130 children have gone missing this year so far and only 6,269 have been found.
West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra— which have larger populations and higher cases of missing children — did not send in data, a reason why the numbers are lower when compared to previous years.
In 2012, 65,038 children were reported missing and 41.35% of them were not traced.
Not all missing children are reported to the police, so the figure could be higher.
More girls have vanished than boys — a worrying indication that child traffickers are getting smarter. It shows that child traffickers were working shrewdly and were a step ahead of the police, said Kailash Satyarthi, founder of the Delhi-based civil society group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (campaign for saving childhood).
Almost half of children reported missing this year till July have not been found, government data shows. Three years ago, almost one in every three missing children were untraced.
A closer look into the home ministry’s report also shows that chances of a missing boy being found are brighter than that of a girl. Increasingly, young girls are being pushed in to prostitution. They are also being used to meet a growing demand for domestic helps and add to it societal bias - there is very little going for missing girls.
“In one district of Assam alone we received complaint of over 150 missing girls. Our analysis show that there is an increase in demand for young girls,” Satyarthi said.
Till July 2013, around 63% girls could not be traced - a percentage far higher than the number of girls among the total missing children. Over the last three years, there has been a steady rise in this trend.
The increasing number of untraced cases also shows that finding these children is not a priority. Of 2,887 children reported missing in Delhi this year, only 832 have been found. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, untraced children far outnumber those reunited with their families.