If a society is judged by the way it treats its children, we would come off very poorly. Not a day goes by without horrific stories about the abuse and murder of children on front pages of newspapers and on prime time on television channels. Orphans are sexually assaulted and murdered at government homes, a group of children playing outside their homes in Hisar in Haryana vanishes only to turn up dead, the body of a child is found stuffed in a desert cooler. We still have not forgotten the grisly Nithari case in which cannibalism was said to have been involved.
These are the ones that are reported, the ones where the police have managed to uncover what exactly happened. It turns out more than half of those children who are reported as missing are never heard of again. An examination of the data available from 24 states, excluding West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which have a high rate of children who have vanished shows that 15,130 children have gone missing this year. Only 6,269 of those children have been found so far. What about the rest? Few of the children who go missing are as lucky as Saroo Brierley who, 25 years after mistakenly getting on a train out of Khandwa, found his mother and natal family again with the help of Google maps. In 2012, 65,038 children were reported missing; 41.35% of them have not been traced so far. It’s quite likely too that the actual number of missing children in India is under-reported. Many parents are too poor or socially disempowered to even muster up the courage to approach the police to report a missing child. What happens to all those children who are never found? The ones who aren’t recovered by a stroke of luck, the ones whose bodies aren’t found, the ones who vanish without a trace? Clearly, many find themselves coerced — like the 14-year-old child who accidentally caused the death of Baby Falak — into the sex trade. Others are in all likelihood trafficked into working at roadside eateries and the begging mafia. Then there is the flourishing market for domestic labour. Indeed, it isn’t unusual to see well-to-do families in urban India employing very young children — probably procured from unscrupulous agents — to look after their own toddlers and do household chores. Needless to add, cases of these children being physically, mentally and sexually abused are par for the course.
It might be naïve to imagine a world where children are absolutely safe, away from lurking predators; the figures who like Aqualung sit on a park bench eyeing little girls (and boys) with evil intent. But it isn’t unrealistic to expect the government to set up a centralised national database of habitual offenders and as well as missing children. This would go at least some way towards helping distraught families who are searching for their children.