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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Operation Muskan: Mumbai Police traces 247 ‘missing’ kids

According to the police, at least 30 people go missing in the city every day, a majority of whom are in the 10-18 age group.

mumbai Updated: Feb 24, 2019 23:38 IST
Megha Sood
Megha Sood
Hindustan Times
After the success of the initiative, named Operation Muskan, the police plan to extend it till March 5.
After the success of the initiative, named Operation Muskan, the police plan to extend it till March 5.(HT File)
         

The Mumbai police traced 247 children, who had been reported missing from their homes and were forced in child labour or begging, in December. After the success of the initiative, named Operation Muskan, the police plan to extend it till March 5.

According to the police, at least 30 people go missing in the city every day, a majority of whom are in the 10-18 age group. “Our teams have studied the city and identified spots from where children are picked up to beg or to work in workshops. We raided these spots in December and rescued the children. They have been sent in custody of the child welfare committee,” said Datta Nalawade, deputy commissioner of police (preventive).

Nalawade said that the CWC, along with non-government organisations (NGOs), helps in sending the children home or rehabilitating them in children’s homes. “We have also identified railway stations where begging rackets function. We will raids these spots too,” said Nalawade.

Officers said in some cases, family members or guardians were found pushing children into begging. In other cases, the children fled from home after failing exams or harassment. To create awareness among citizens, the Mumbai police have started a drive to urge people to report if they spot a kid begging or wandering on the streets unchaperoned. Officials said that from July 2015 to July 2017, a total of 20,112 kids were traced under Operation Muskan. “Even after rescue, many kids find their way back to the streets, begging or working. We will now check on them, even if it is as far as Uttar Pradesh or Bihar,” he said.

Meet the constable who traced 400 ‘missing’ kids

It’s been five years since Krish Verma, then 7, went missing, but Rajesh Pandey, a constable who works for the team that traces missing children, still carries his photograph in his pocket. “I don’t forget to show it around even when I am handling investigation in other cases. I have developed a bond with the missing child. It feels like my kid has gone away from home,” said Pandey.

Pandey, who has been part of the squad since 2011, has traced 400 missing children so far. Of the 247 kids rescued through Operation Muskan in December, Pandey alone has traced more than 40 kids. “I am in touch with several NGOs and social activists across India through WhatsApp groups, which help in tracking and tracing missing children,” said Pandey.

Known for his expertise, Pandey is consulted for cases that are not even in his jurisdiction. “The happiness on the face of a child’s parent is my reward,” said Pandey, who has worked at Santacruz, Malad and Andheri police stations.

According to Pandey, Operation Muskan is effective as many teams, including the child welfare committee (CWC), several NGOs and police officers, work simultaneously.

When a one-year-old child went missing from Kajupada area in Malad west, the deputy commissioner of police called Pandey. “I felt the kid may have been kidnapped. I had a bad feeling,” said Pandey, who later found the child’s body in a gunny bag kept at the child’s uncle’s house. An hour later, the kid’s aunt was arrested for the murder.

Pandey says talking to family is key to solving such cases. “Most kids flee either due to fights at home or addiction or because they have been misguided by lovers or an elder. In such cases, we try to get maximum information from parents and guardians. The country-wide WhatsApp groups also help in tracing children,” said Pandey.

First Published: Feb 24, 2019 23:38 IST

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