At least two children go missing every day in Tamil Nadu, raising concerns they may be trafficked into prostitution, handed over to criminal gangs or sold for illegal adoption, the national human rights commission said.
Alarmed by the disappearance of 271 children in Tamil Nadu in the first three months of 2016, the commission asked state authorities this week to account for the situation.
“The mafia that controls begging and even those involved in child prostitution and adoption rackets could be behind these disappearances,” the commission said in a statement.
The authorities say 2,711 children have disappeared in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in the past 15 months. However, comparative figures were not immediately available.
In the past month alone, two infants were taken from their families in the port city of Chennai as they slept on the streets next to their homeless parents.
Police said CCTV footage showed a car stopping near the pavement from where one child was abducted.
“It seems to have been a planned snatching. The knot with which the mother had tied her 10-month-old daughter to her sari was cut and the baby quietly taken,” a police officer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, requesting anonymity.
In the second case, an eight-month-old boy was taken as his family slept near a bus station.
Rights groups say homeless children are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by traffickers, with many missing children sold on to unsuspecting adoptive parents or forced to beg by criminal gangs.
“The poor have little resources and often hesitate to go to the police,” said Andrew Sesuraj from the Tamil Nadu Child Rights Observatory, a non-governmental organisation. “Their children are very vulnerable, lying in the open, their exhausted parents fast asleep nearby.”
India’s women and child development ministry has introduced a scheme to track missing children across the country, CHILDLINE India Foundation, another child rights charity, said more needed to be done.
“This will work only if there is a countrywide hook-up between the police and agencies working with children. Unless the details of missing children are immediately put out, the chances of finding them reduce,” said Anuradha Vidyasankar, the head of CHILDLINE’s office in Chennai.
“A missing child is not just missing but actually getting into bigger trouble. The time factor is crucial because in a matter of two days the child can be taken out of the country,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A Tamil Nadu state official said about a third of children reported missing to the police are eventually traced.