In Madhya Pradesh 29 Children Went Missing Every Day in 2021, Finds Report

The state reported a steep decline in the number of children reported 'missing' during the first COVID-19 lockdown. But there was a 26% surge in the second.

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Bhopal: After a fight with her mother-in-law, 28-year-old Shruti left her husband’s home with her two-year-old son, a bag on her shoulders and no money in her pocket.

It was around 5 pm of October 2019 when she left her husband’s home in Chand locality of Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara district. Shruti would need to travel 200 km to reach her native Hridaynagar in tribal-majority Mandla district.

There was no bus to Hridaynagar at the Chhindwara bus stop. A stranger, Bablu alias Ram Bharose, approached her. Bablu convinced her to stay at his house for the night and leave at first light the next morning. Shruti agreed. She was raped that night. The following day, before she could understand anything, Bablu ‘sold’ her to Dinesh Toshniwal, a resident of Rajhasthan’s Bhilwara for Rs 1.70 lakh with the help of a local priest Ravindra Dubey. Her son was abandoned in the outskirts of the city.

The family lodged a missing person’s report at Chhindwara’s Chand Police station after failing to trace her. But the police investigation did not yeild any results.

Weeks later, Shruti was resold to Happuram Gurjar, a resident of Pali district of Rajasthan, at Rs 3 lakh. Gurjar tortured and raped her for months before she escaped and took refuge at the Bhilwara One Stop Centre, meant to assist women affected by violence.

In January 2021, MP Police launched a special drive to trace missing people and the dust over Shruti’s ‘missing’ complaint finally cleared. Investigation was restarted and in a week, police found her at Bhilwara One Stop Centre. They were clueless about her missing son. With the help of his old photographs, police found him in a government-run shelter home in Chhindwara.

Just like Shruti, 24-year-old Kushbu, a resident of Bhopal’s Teela Jamalpura was trafficked to Rajasthan’s Jhalawar by a catering manager Mazbut Singh on October 1, 2021. He had promised her a job. Singh ‘leased’ her to one Mor Singh at Rs 80,000 for a year. Mor Singh and his son Kishan Singh raped her several times and kept her confined in a room.

She was rescued by Bhopal police on December 19, 2021, after Kushbu somehow contacted her younger sister in Bhopal and gave her sister her address. Police booked five people in connection with the incident.

Also read: What the State Can Do to Identify and Assist Children Orphaned by COVID-19

Along with Shruti and Kushbu, a total of 10,648 women and children were registered missing in Madhya Pradesh in 2021. The majority of them fell in the age group of 12-22 years. Out of this number, 8,876 were girls and 1,772 were boys. On an average, 29 children (24 girls and five boys) went missing per day from the 52 districts of Madhya Pradesh in 2021, a new report of the NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) says.

According to NCRB data, Madhya Pradesh reported as many as 8,751 cases of missing children in 2020. Data for this number in 2021 – 10,648 – was gathered by CRY through a Right to Information request. The state has seen a jump of 26% in just one year.

The highest number of missing children were reported from Indore, Bhopal, Dhar, Jabalpur and Rewa, the report says. It says that sex trafficking, forced labour, forced child marriage, abandonment and domestic violence could be possible reasons.

The 28-page report was released for International Missing Children’s Day, observed on May 25. In its 10th edition of the Status Report on Missing Children, the child rights organisation says that on average, 29 children in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Rajasthan, five in Delhi, Haryana and eight from 58 districts of Uttar Pradesh went missing every day in 2021.

Speaking on the report, J.N. Kansotiya, Principal Secretary in charge of Women and Child Development Department said, “It’s true that cases of missing children have drastically surged and it needs special attention. But with the help of police we recover over 60% of the children every year. Besides, our juvenile justice homes, ChildLine and one stop centres are working in districts to curb such cases and support the victims.”

“The government is devising a plan and conducting studies to understand the root cause of the problem and draft a policy,” he said.

According to the NCRB report, Madhya Pradesh is among the top states with the highest number of missing cases in the last five years. It reported a steep decline in the first COVID-19 lockdown but reported a surge of 26% in the second.

On an average, 23 children were reported missing everyday in 2016, followed by 28 in 2017 and 2018, which surged to 30 in 2019 and then dropped to 24 in 2020.

Over 30 children went missing everyday in the second lockdown, compared to 25 children daily in the first.

Last year, CRY released a report titled ‘COVID and Missing Childhoods: A Status Report from 5 States’. It revealed that as many as 9,453 children were reported missing in five states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi between January and July, 2020. Of these, 57% were from Madhya Pradesh.

A study of both reports reveal that on an average, 30 children went missing every day during the second COVID-19 lockdown in Madhya Pradesh as compared to 25 children in the first lockdown, of whom over 82% were girls.

Pointing out the reason for the surge in cases of trafficking in lockdown, child rights activist and regional director of CRY (North) Soha Moitra said, “With mandatory face masks, it was challenging to identify traffickers, kidnappers and children during the pandemic. In addition to that, the police personnel were busy imposing lockdowns instead of policing. This made it difficult to investigate cases of missing children and elders.”

She further said, “The in-depth analysis of NCRB data in this status report also suggests that the proportion of girl children in total missing children has increased from 65% in 2016 to 77% in 2020 across India. This has been the trend across all the four states, with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan accounting for the highest proportion of girl children among all missing children.”

When contacted, Richa Shrivastava, ADG in charge of crime against women in Madhya Pradesh Police said, “Sensing the gravity of the situation, we launched ‘Operation Muskan’ to look for missing children. Our recovery rate in missing cases is close to 60%.”

She further said, “Apart from the recovery, in majority of the resolved missing cases, the parents did not inform the police when the children returned, but police count them as live cases and those pile up at the police stations. Hundreds of such cases of similar nature were resolved through Operation Muskan.”

Officials claimed they have resolved as many as 3,331 missing cases in just January and February 2021, at 56 cases a day.

Madhya Pradesh police has also roped in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis to look into the pattern and objectives of missing or trafficking cases. The study will also focus on police behaviour in dealing with the cases of missing, kidnapping, elopement and trafficking.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on March 10, 2021 in presence of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Richa Mishra, senior advisor at Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis, said, “The study will analyse the root cause of crimes taking place against women and thereby, find what measures could be taken. We will also look at what amendments could be made to the law or policy to curb those cases and how the police behaviour can be improved while dealing with such cases.”

Kashif Kakvi is a journalist with Newsclick.