Thousands of children, mostly from poor families, are kidnapped or murdered in India each year, and experts say published figures could be an underestimate.
According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), 14,975 children go missing in India on an average every year. Of these, as many as 11,008 remain untraced. Experts feel the real figures could be much more.
While the brutal killings of children, mainly girls, from Nithari village in Noida, bordering the Indian capital, have rocked the people's conscience, it has brought to the surface certain issues that experts say need to be addressed immediately.
In a bid to understand the magnitude of crime committed against children in India, several child rights activists, members of civil society and people from the government came together at a meeting organised by the Centre for Social Research (CSR) here.
The meeting, "Missing Children in India", raised some alarming facts.
Government officials quoted the National Crimes Bureau (NCB) figures as showing that 1,327 children were murdered in the country in 2005, up from 1,304 in 2004, an increase of 1.8 percent.
But there is no consolidated data on the number of missing children every year. And whatever is there in hand, according to Ranjana Kumari of CSR, "is not credible".
To begin with, only one-twentieth of missing cases and crimes are reported officially. Why is that so?
Razia Ismail Abbasi, convenor of the India Alliance for Child Rights, asserts that since most children from poor families do not even get registered at birth; it is as if they "don't exist officially".
Participants at Wednesday's meeting almost lamented the callousness of the police across the country, saying they tended to discriminate against the have-nots.
This, they said, is what happened in Nithari where parents of most of the children who went missing but whose disappearance caused no major alarm were migrants.
The discussion, while bringing out the pitfalls of a system which resulted in something as shocking as Nithari, also revolved around possible solutions to prevent more such cases from recurring.
Coordination of government agencies, NGOs and the police in tackling growing crime against children and, most important, changing the mindset of people are some of the things which can prevent a second Nithari.
"After all, once our attitude towards the poor, that they are expendable, changes and we start hearing their unheard cries, there'll be hope for the children of our country," said Abbasi.