It is a piece of statistics that chills us to the bone. Every day on an average, darkness descends on nine families in Assam as the rest of the State goes about its daily business. According to figures furnished by the State Home department, nine children on an average go missing every day. In five years from 2009 to May, 2014, a staggering 15,676 children below age ten years, have disappeared in Assam. Even more worryingly, around two-thirds of these missing children are girls. And only a fraction of these children are ever recovered by the police. Of the 10,046 girls who went missing in the five year period, only 1,806 came back to their families — a recovery rate of hardly 18 per cent. The figures for missing boys are as dismal and alarming. According to CID sources, numerous trafficking gangs are active in the State. Many children are spirited away to other States to work as domestic helps, bonded labourers or sex workers. Children from rural and char areas are particularly vulnerable, with most trafficking cases reported from villages mainly in Sonitpur, Baksa, Darrang, Udalguri, Kamrup and Morigaon districts.
The problem is that when a child goes missing, no FIR is generally filed as no cognizable offence has been supposedly committed. Police stations in the State are so undermanned and overburdened with law and order duties that they can hardly spare any time to tackle crime. In the list of crimil activities, kidpping and trafficking of children figure very low in the scheme of things as far as cops in the State are concerned. If at all the local tha deigns to make an entry in its general diary, the information is forwarded as a routine matter to police headquarters with a bureau for missing persons. It is well known their database is not at all up-to-date; neither do most police stations have the necessary computer and internet facilities (apart from sincerity and IT skills) to upload data of missing persons on a daily basis. The situation is so bad that the Supreme Court had to take matters into its own hands last year, directing the police in different States to find 12,591 children missing since 2011. Assam Police was directed to trace at least 2,800 children gone missing. The four-week deadline laid down by the apex court in November last has long passed, and the Assam Police is yet to come to grips with the problem.
While moving the Supreme Court, the NGO ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’ had alleged that the police in different states are unconcerned about parents’ complaints of missing children. The result of this utter indifference is that thousands of children every year are trafficked and forced to work at affluent homes and hazardous industries, beg on the streets or pressed into crime by syndicates, or be part of the flesh trade. That most such unfortute children come from poor households adds a serious socio-economic dimension to the problem. It will not be an exaggeration to say that parents have to be rich and resourceful enough, setting aside a considerable part of their time and energy every day — to ensure the safety of their children. Because if things go badly wrong, the State with all its policing parapherlia, will not be there to help. The states with the worst track records are said to be Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi and Kartaka, with Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and even Gujarat figuring as problem states. Interestingly, when Bihar Police last November responded with alacrity to the Supreme Court deadline to trace within a week 169 of the 633 children reported missing. This prompted the apex court to ask why did the police have to wait to be prodded by the court to do its duty? “What all will the court monitor — missing children, human trafficking, drug abuse? If the Supreme Court has to monitor the work of administration and police through continuous mandamus, then we must have another Supreme Court to deal with such matters,” the exasperated bench had observed. This state of affairs offers little hope for households condemned to excruciating, hellish pain, desperately searching for their missing children throughout life or resigned to an endless anxious wait that will end only with death.