“The child of the poor who goes missing is just a number in the police record, it is only when a rich man’s child goes missing that the media, the police and the politicians really bother,’’ says Raj Kumar, who along with his wife continue to wait for the return of their eight-year-old daughter Kajol who went missing in April 2010 from in front of her house in Nangloi village.
The same month five other children, all under ten years of age, went missing from the same unauthorised colony.
“Some were picked up on their way from schools, others in the market place and a girl from the area never returned home from the nearby playground where she was last seen playing with her friends from the same locality.’’
After their child (Kajol) went missing Raj Kumar and his wife, who have four other children and sell second-hand clothes for a living, did the usual rounds of the police station, local leaders and even participated in a protest held by parents of missing children at Jantar Mantar organised by a non-government organisation some years ago.
“Sadly it all amounted to nothing. We have no news about our girl. Some say she might have been pushed into prostitution and it is a thought that does not allow us to sleep at night. I can’t remember the last time I saw my wife smile. The fear of what our child is undergoing does not let us rest. It feels like some body is choking us all the time,’’ says a tearful Raj Kumar.
Thirteen children go missing each day from the Capital, according to the Delhi Government’s reply to a Right to Information Report sought by non-government organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan, working in the area of child rescue.
Deena Nath, who works in the area of child rescue with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, says: “Areas in Delhi which have unauthorised colonies, or where the concentration of migrant workers is high, report the maximum number of missing children. Though the police have become a lot more sensitive to the issue now and are prompt in registering a first information report, there is a lot that can be done in terms of follow-up action. ”
Rakesh Senger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan says: “Areas of Delhi including Jahangirpuri, Sangam Vihar, Mandalawi have seen the maximum number of children going missing in the past few years. These are areas where the migrant population from Bihra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal is very high. People come in here because of the acute poverty that they face back home. They come to Delhi in the hope of a better living and even good education for their children. Once in the Capital they are forced to stay in slum clusters without any social security and their children immediately become vulnerable to crimes against them.’’
Former member of a Child Welfare Committee, Delhi, Mr. Raj Mangal Prasad says: “The parents are prompt to report a missing child, the police too plays role but it is the lack of co-ordination between the six Child Welfare Committees monitoring eleven districts in the Capital that fails these children. There is an urgent need to rectify this anomaly.’’
And it is probably this inability of the Government to act in time, apathy of the police and the lack of co-ordination between the vigilance and supporting agencies that has caused so much anguish to the parents of Sonu, who has been missing from the Jahangirpuri A-block area of Delhi for the past three years.
His mother Lilawati says: “My husband runs a small shop in the area. After our son went missing we did everything in our power to look for him. He was around 6-7 years old when he went missing. The police helped us in registering a case but after that nothing much has been heard from them. When we go to politicians they tell us that they have to worry about missing children across the country and that our case was just one of the many that comes to them. We now don’t know which agency to turn to for help. Sadly no one is really looking for a poor man’s missing child.’’
Same is the case with Depali who went missing from Jahangirpuri A-block two years ago. Depali’s father Ram Kewal, who works as a rickshaw-puller, says: “What can a poor man do. In case he goes looking for his child who is missing what he will earn for his family. I have three other children to look after and after running around for two years looking for my daughter I now we feel defeated. My poverty has forced me to abandon the search for my child. ’’
Delhi Women and Child Welfare Minister Kiran Walia says: “The problem of missing children is being taken up as a priority and we have been in talks with senior officials from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa to set up an instant police alert for trafficked girls. Children forced to work, sold in adoption rackets and pushed into prostitution are all areas of concern. The police have been made aware and sensitised about the problem. Our department has put up pictures of missing children on its website and we also post their pictures in newspapers. We are working in partnership with various organisations to rescue, identify and restore missing children. There is, of course, a need to be more alert and active.’’