Following the Supreme Court directions, the National Crime Records Bureau began reporting the number of missing & traced children as a separate category from 2016. Between 2015 & 2019, the total number of cases of missing children in India increased by about 16.3%. Kerala tops the tracing rate at around 94% in 2019.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has defined missing child as ‘a person below 18 years of age, whose whereabouts are not known to the parents, legal guardians, and any other persons who may be legally entrusted with the custody of the child, whatever may be the circumstances/causes of disappearance’. Every year, as reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), thousands of children are reported to have gone missing in India. Many of them are traced by the police within a short span of time while the others are either never found or are found as victims of misfortune. The NCRB started reporting detailed data on missing & traced persons including Children from 2016 onwards following the Supreme Court’s direction. Even prior to 2016, the data was available though it was not reported. We look at the broad trend in missing children across the country and in states, in the last few years.
An average of 200 Children go missing in India every day
In 2019, about 73,138 children were reportedly missing. This means that an average of 200 children were reported missing each day and 8 each hour. The concerning aspect of this is that 71% of this number are girls. Girls made up 52,049 missing cases in 2019 while boys accounted for 21,074 cases. It has also been reported that 15 transgender children went missing in 2019. Compared to 2018, the total number of cases of missing children increased by almost 9%. The number of missing boys increased by 6.5% while that of missing girls increased by over 10%. Data on transgenders was included only in 2018.
In 2019, 11 states accounted for 80% of the Missing Children
Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of missing children cases in 2019, with 11,022 cases contributing to nearly 15% of the national total. The state also accounts for the greatest number of girls and boys reported missing. West Bengal, Bihar, and Delhi were the other states/UT to have recorded more than 5000 missing children cases each. Together, these four states/UT together account for about 45% of all cases in the country. Together with the cases in these 4 States/UTs, the number of cases recorded in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh, account for 80% of the missing children cases in 2019. It has to be noted that these 11 States/UT together accounted for almost 75% of the population under 18 years as per the 2011 Census.
Cases in Maharashtra more than doubled in 2019 while in Karnataka, cases halved
In Maharashtra, the number of missing children cases increased by 166.6% in 2019 when compared to 2018. Rajasthan and Odisha too have recorded an increase, by 42% and 35% respectively. A total of 16 states have recorded an increase in cases compared to 2018. Meanwhile, number of such cases in Karnataka halved in 2019 in comparison to 2018.
Total number of children missing has increased by 16.3% in five years
Since 2015, the number of children reported to have gone missing in a particular year is the highest in 2019. In the five-year period from 2015-2019, the number of missing children cases reported in a specific year increased by 21%, from 60,443 in 2015 to 73,138 in 2019. Further, the gender wise trend reveals that the number of girls reported missing each year has increased by an alarming 42.2%. In the case of boys, the number dropped by 17% and went below 20,000 in 2018. However, it has slightly increased by 6.5% in 2019.
While the number of missing children cases reported in a particular year have been less than 75,000, the total number of missing children cases has been more than a lakh in each of the years from 2015 to 2019. This is due to the fact that not all children who go missing in a particular year are traced in the same year. The untraced cases get added to the fresh cases in the following year, which then becomes the total number of missing cases for that year.
By the end of 2019, over 1.19 Lakh children were missing, including those who were not traced from previous years. This number is the highest since 2015 and has increased by over 16.3% over these five years.
Only 60% of the Missing Children were traced in 2019
In the year 2019, only about 60% of the missing children which is 71,253 out of almost 1.2 Lakh were traced. However, the number of children being traced has increased over the years, from 54,449 in 2015 to 71,253 in 2019. Even in terms of percentage, the share of missing children traced over the years has increased from about 53% in 2015 to around 60% in 2019. There remains a large number of children still missing every year despite the improvement in tracing.
Cases in Bihar has increased by 252%
Among the states, the total number of children reported missing has decreased consistently between 2015 & 2019 only in the state of Karnataka. Even Assam has witnessed a marginal reduction in the cases reported during this period. On the other hand, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Bihar have witnessed a sharp increase in the number of missing children cases. In fact, in Bihar, the total number of missing children cases has increased by over 252% in five years. In Punjab, the number has gone up by 142% in five years. In Chhattisgarh, the number increased by 66% while in Madhya Pradesh, the number increased by 33.5%. Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand reported an increase of 38.8% in the number of missing children cases during the same period.
94% of the Missing Children were traced in Kerala in 2019
The percentage of children getting traced is the least in Odisha, at around 27% in 2019. The same in Punjab is 27.8% and has been decreasing over the last five years. Among the larger states apart from Punjab and Odisha, Bihar where almost 42% of the children have been traced in 2019, is among the lowest. On the other hand, Kerala has consistently traced more than 80% of the missing children each year. In 2019, about 94% of the missing children were traced. Telangana has consistently traced more than 70% of the children. In 2019, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh traced 86% and 83% of the missing children respectively.
The number of Missing Children is expected to increase in 2020
The numbers in the NCRB’s annual report are only those which have been reported to the police. Like in the case of other crimes, there could be thousands of cases of missing children which never get reported to the police. It also has to be noted that kidnapping and abductions, trafficking, children who run away on their own, or forced to run away due to the circumstances at home, due to domestic violence, or a teenager eloping are all registered as missing children. Children can be even cheated into prostitution and slavery in promise of a better future. Thus, the actual numbers could be much higher.
It is also speculated that the number of missing children cases may increase substantially in 2020 as a result of the nationwide lockdown which has significantly affected the economy and resulted in large scale job losses. There could be an increase in child labour, increase in cases of trafficking among other issues.
What are the existing Government initiatives?
The Ministry of Women and Child Development has a dedicated website to aid in development of a national tracking system for missing and vulnerable children. Furthermore, a 24*7 child helpline number 1098, Railways Childline, etc. are being operated by the central government. At the state level, police work in tandem with many Non-Governmental Organisations. While studying the issue, the Justice Verma committee, in 2013, stated that the trafficking laws and IPC on slavery must be amended and made more stringent to tackle the problem of trafficking.
Featured Image: Missing Children cases in India