Ram Singh, Mohammed Sabir, Haseena and Asma have many things in common. Hailing from different states around Delhi, they have come to the national capital in search of a decent life; all of them are trying to sustain their families by doing odd jobs. And, their children are missing.
As the desperate parents meet at the office of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO run by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, they share their grief and console each other. They can only hope and pray that their children don’t end up as mere statistics in government records.
Data tabled at the Lok Sabha recently revealed that in the past three years, more than 22,000 children went missing in Delhi. 9,000 are yet to be traced.
Every year, more than 7,000 children go missing and 1,500 of them remain untraced in Delhi, the second highest in the country after Maharashtra. Many of them are never found.
Activists say that most of the missing children are trafficked by organised gangs which push them into a life of bonded labour in big cities or in Gulf countries. Girls are mostly forced into prostitution, many of them sent to villages with poor sex ratio and married off to men twice their age.
According to NGOs such as BBA, Delhi is fast emerging as the hub of children trafficking and gangs mostly target children from lower income groups as both parents go out for work, leaving the minors alone and vulnerable.
Ram Singh, a factory worker in Sohna, Gurgaon, said he has scoured all possible places -- railway stations, bus stops, temples, mosques -- looking for his 11-year-old son Ankit who disappeared on April 3.
“He took my permission to go out with friends but never returned. I lodged a police complaint but till now I haven’t received any relief. Every morning I go out looking for my son. I hope, one day I will return home with him,” Singh said.
In Haryana, more than 3,700 children have remained untraced in the past three years and like Singh, most of the victims are workers who have come to Delhi in search of a livelihood. Singh said he has spent over Rs one lakh searching his son and doesn’t have any other source of income as he has stopped going to the factory he was working.
Like Singh, there are other parents who have stopped going to work in order to find their children.
Activists say Delhi Police’s investigations into missing children are not serious, leading to a rise in the number of untraced children.
“Police in Delhi and from neighbouring states…most of the time they just go to shelter homes and look for missing children. Ideally, they should look for organised gangs who are involved in child trafficking,” said Rakesh Senger, programme coordinator of BBA.
Delhi Police claim that if the missing children are above 12 years of age, there are chances that they may have run away from their homes.
Activists, however, don’t agree.
“Children from Delhi are often taken to Punjab and western UP to work in agriculture field. In cases where we have managed to track children, this was the trend. In cases of girls, they are pushed into prostitution,” said Senger.
Delhi Police, who have rescued and reunited 1,680 children with their families since January 2015, say they visit observation homes to reunite the children.
“We have managed to reunite 900 children this year and 789 last year. We visit children homes and counsel them to get their addresses. We then coordinate through details given by them. If we get information on child labour or any organised gang, we do act on that,” said RS Yadav, joint commissioner of police (crime branch).
Besides trafficking, the rate of crime -- incident per lakh population -- against children is also the highest in Delhi.
According to statistics available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 132 children in one lakh faced some kind of crime in 2013 while the rate of crime in 2012 in Delhi was 75 per lakh population.
Most of the cases are registered for abduction and rape.
Police said border areas like Aman Vihar, Shahbad Dairy, Nangloi and Jehangirpuri areas are the most vulnerable for children.
On the morning of May 10, Nazir, like any other day left for school, which is just a few metres away from his house. When he didn’t return till 5 pm, his father – Mohammed Sabir sent his wife to look for him. She went to the school but was told Nazir didn’t come to school.
“We then started searching for him. I called my relatives and during first few hours we concentrated on the nearby areas. Apart from lodging a police complaint, we searched every possible area. His friends told me that he had come to school but school authorities refused. Usually I go to pick him up but that day I didn’t, which I regret the most,” said Sabir.
Nazir is the only son of Sabir, who is a street vendor. “Apart from stations, I went to Nizamuddin, Jama Masjid, Red Fort and even Narela to look for him. My wife will not be able to survive without him. I just want my child back,” he added.
Mohammed Saddam (four-and-a-half)
Saddam’s mother Haseena came to Delhi about five months ago in search of a job. She works as a domestic help, four houses a day. On the morning of May 10, Saddam went out to answer nature’s call while Haseena was sleeping. He hasn’t returned till date.
“I thought he went out to play so I started my routine work. It was only in the evening, I found that he hasn’t returned. I am new to Delhi and don’t know many person,” she said.
Haseena, a native of Begusarai, Bihar, barely manages to speak. “When I came to Delhi, I didn’t know this would happen to my child. Now, even if I want to return, I won’t be able to without getting back my son. He is everything to me,” she added.
She lives in a small home in Dwarka sector 1 and has stopped working ever since her son went missing.
Mohammed Jariz (8)
Asma, mother of Jariz, is the elder sister of Haseena. They are neighbours and it was Asma, who suggested Haseena to come to Delhi for work. Now, both have met with the same fate, their only children are missing and they have no idea where they are.
“I don’t know whether they (Jariz and Saddam) have gone together or not, but there have been such cases in my locality earlier too. I have borrowed money from my relatives to look for my son. I hope he is fine wherever he is. I have approached the police and NGO to look for my child,” she said.
Jariz also went missing on May 10 morning but it is not clear whether both went together or not. She has got a poster prepared and have pasted it at railway stations to get the clue of her missing son.