NHRC recommends alert system to trace missing children in India
As many as 73,138 children went missing in India in 2019 alone, according to National Crime Records Bureau. The group has said the issue should be made a national priority and recommended incentives for police to proactively investigating cases of missing children
An early warning system should be developed in India on the lines of America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert to trace the missing, runaway, trafficked, and abducted children, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended.
The AMBER Alert was created in 1996 after Amber Hagerman, 9, was kidnapped and murdered in Texas. Under the system, once a child is abducted, law enforcement agencies notify broadcasters and state transportation officials for alerts. The alerts are issued by suspending regular programming on radio and television. They are also issued via emails, SMS, and electronic billboards on highways.
At a meeting, the NHRC’s Core Group on Children cited growing numbers of missing children to recommend the alert system. As many as 73,138 children went missing in India in 2019 alone, according to National Crime Records Bureau. The group has said the issue should be made a national priority and recommended incentives for police to proactively investigating cases of missing children.
The group has also recommended the revival of the Union home ministry’s Operation Smile under which drives were carried nationally to trace the missing children from 2015 to 2017. Over 70,000 children were traced under the scheme.
The group has also recommended a single comprehensive national standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure uniformity by doing away with other overlapping procedures. It has said roles of each stakeholder, especially district child protection units, should be defined. There are overlapping Union home and women and child development ministries’ SOPs on missing children.
At the meeting, the group’s members flagged a “lack of accountability in law enforcement agencies and civil servants” and said it was “hindering effective implementation of various policies and guidelines”.
“There is a need to fix accountability for delay or non-registration of FIRs [first information reports],” according to the minutes of the meeting seen by HT. The members underlined the need for using artificial intelligence and heat-map for data collection and identification of the most vulnerable spots and routes. “There is a need to look at why children are leaving home, look at what prevents us from identifying those indicators early on, examine the impact of the response system on children’s right, etc. There is a need to research and evolve a model procedure for investigation for missing children, incorporating all the good practices and doing away with the redundant practices,” said the minutes.
Child rights lawyer Bhuwan Ribhu and Asha Bajpai, a former law professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, are among the members of the group. The group also includes representatives from the women and child development ministry, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and NHRC.
Bharti Ali, the co-founder of HAQ Centre for Child Rights and a member of the group, said this is an issue on which all stakeholders like ministries of home and women and child development have been involved in a dialogue for a long time. “There are SOPs but they are not being implemented on the ground. Then there is duplication... of data.”
Ali said the time police and other authorities take to react when a child goes missing is crucial. “Tracing mobile numbers of children or mobile numbers used by children to reach out to their parents when they are lost or have been kidnapped is not done timely. The time lag is very crucial, and many children can be traced if promptness is shown as soon as the parents share such numbers with the police.”
The home ministry did not immediately respond to HT’s query on the recommendation.