Friday, February 09, 2007

Rajasthan’s missing cell: Our job is to collect data, we do it every month

Indian Express Jaipur,

February 8: • Hope abandoned this single-room house in Chittorgarh years ago. Now Ratanlal Mali, his wife and three children do not expect to see Seema again, three years after the eldest child went missing. She was 13 then. Ironically, the two accused in the kidnapping are a police constable and his wife. Vinod Kumar, who was arrested but freed on bail later, continues to be in the police. And in this fact lies the despair of the poor Mali family.

• On September 9, 2005, Amina Maniyar’s daughter Aabida, then 15, did not return home from work. The mother went to the police to report the girl missing. “Bhaag gai hogi,” the police told her. Then she went again and again, over a year. “Bhool ja usey,” she was told. Amina says the police may be right that Aabida ran away but as a mother, she can’t live peacefully on that assumption. “I must know if she is safe.”

WHEN it comes to bearing the pain of a missing child and feeling totally helpless about it, a Ratanlal or an Amina has large company. Since 2001, 1,029 children are reported missing from across Rajasthan. And these are official figures, confirmed by the police at the district level. But senior police officials claim that the actual figure might be smaller. The reason: once a child comes back, nobody bothers to report it to the police, they say.

Leaving the “accurate” number aside, what the data here show is that on an average, 170 kids go missing in Rajasthan every year, or one child every two days. And nearly an eighth of this number is cases of kidnapping.

Backed by these numbers, the police believe that most of the missing kids actually run away following a conflict at home or in search of a better life. When the police say 15-year-old Aabida may have eloped, they have a little over 18 per cent chance of being correct. Two in 10 girls who go missing do in search of better life as a model or an actor, said a social worker here. Another two out of 10, mainly between ages 14 and 17, run away to get married.

Cases are registered only when there is a suspected kidnapping, but often there is no clear answer to who ran away and who was kidnapped.

“In more than 90 per cent cases, the children have run away from home after a fight. And most of them come back once their money runs out or their anger subsides,” says A K Jain, addition DGP of crime. “But the parents don’t bother to inform the police.”

M L Chowdhry, who runs the Gram Vikas Sewa Sanstha, a Johpur-based organisation working with street children, agrees. “Most children run away in search of a better life. They may be poor, have an abusive father or a sex-worker mother. And most of them do not come back if they earn enough to for two meals a day.”

But tell this to Seema’s family. Constable Vinod Kumar was posted at Udaipur while his wife lived at Chittorgardh. She often called Seema over for house work. On July 28, 2004, Seema was at her employer’s house. “After sometime, the lady came to our house, claiming that Seema had stolen her gold earrings and had gone missing,” says Ratanlal.

“She told us that her husband, who was in town then, was searching for her,” says the daily-wager.

Initially, the police in Chittorgarh refused to file a complaint. But the Malis went to the SP, where an FIR was lodged. Kumar was arrested and later freed on bail. He continues to be in service, currently stationed at Baswada.

Or try convincing Amina Maniyar, who is still waiting for Aabida. She may be among the 82 per cent girls who go missing but have not “eloped”. But there seems to be no way to ascertain that.

Rajasthan does have a missing persons cell, though. It is a lean affair, with one sub-inspector and a couple of administrative staff to man it. It is hard to expect this cell to go looking for missing persons when you get to know that the data the cell maintained was updated only after the Rajasthan High Court demanded to know how many children were missing in the state in the last three years.

The court has directed the CBI to look for 502 missing children, Half of the actual figure in the state.

All this full-time cell does is send pictures and details of missing persons for ads on television and in newspapers. These ads get displayed for a week, after which they are forgotten. The authorities here make it clear at the very outset that it is called a “cell” but “isn’t one actually”.

“Finding a child is not easy. Even if one deploys 10 policemen, they may not be able to trace the child because he might be in any corner of India,” says Jain.

“The cell can’t find the children. Anyway, it is the duty of the district police and that too is quite difficult because in several cases people don’t even have a photograph of the missing person,” Jain says.

Over at the one-man cell, in-charge Anwar Khan says: “Our job here is to collect the data, which we do every month.”

Found, somehow

JAIPUR: A trip to the Railway Station in November 2005 became a nightmare for Prem Chand, who works at construction sites in Jaipur. He had gone there to show trains and engines to his then 12-year-old son Tarun. However, Tarun got lost somewhere in the crowd, and the father could not trace him. After waiting for a day, Prem filed a complaint. “When I first went to the police, they insisted that I must have beaten up the boy and he must have run away from home,” he says. Meanwhile, somebody found Tarun crying near a train and thinking that his parents might be on the train, made him board it. “I go in to see if I could find papa,” says Tarun. But the train took him to Delhi. Someone at the station told Tarun he would take him to Jaipur, but sent him with someone else, who in turn handed Tarun over to a man named Sharifbhai in Noida.

“I worked at a tea stall for four days before one Rakesh came there and saw me crying. He fought with the stall owner and brought me back home,” says Tarun.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Andhra’s girls vanish, many to Maharashtra’s brothels

Most cases go unreported, officials say 40 per cent of trafficking cases are from Andhra

Indian Express HYDERABAD, FEBRUARY 7 : Sarla was 10 when she left her house in Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam district. Her elder sister Lakshmi took her by train to Maharashtra, where she was passed on to another girl, who promised to employ her as a domestic help.

Instead, she was taken to a brothel, and sold to the ‘madam’ for Rs 2,000.

She spent the next few years changing hands, going from one owner to another. Her last ‘employer’ was Mrs. Trivedi. “We used to live with her. She would take us to picnics with men who we didn’t know. This happened very often. We were not given any money, but instead given food and clothes,” says Sarla.

She is now 15. And back.

That’s not a usual story in a state where over half of the missing children are never traced. An estimated 3,497 children, a majority of them girls, went missing last year and only 1,585 were recovered.

Sarla (name changed) was fortunate. She was rescued from Vani in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal by a team of Mumbai police. She was put up at a shelter in Mumbai and discovered by an Andhra police officer who visited the home to work out a system of sharing information with his Mumbai counterparts.

The police brought her back to Khammam, cracked down on the trafficking ring, arrested five women who ran it and rescued 37 girls who took the same route. As many as 10 of them are still minors.

Five years after going missing, cases of kidnapping and trafficking were registered for Sarla.

It’s the same story for Lekha, 16. She, too, was promised a job in Maharashtra and ended up in a Vani brothel. Lekha (name changed) has been rescued and is now at a counselling centre in Hyderabad, waiting for her HIV test results. In her Khammam village, no case was registered when she disappeared.

R K Meena, SP, Khammam, says parents are reluctant to register cases in rural Andhra, because of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. “There is also a stigma associated with a missing girl. They know that if a case is filed, then police will come asking questions, and they do not want this,” he says.

Officials working against human trafficking say that Andhra Pradesh is a major supplier of girls for prostitution across the country.

Padma, recently arrested by Khammam police in Vani, Maharashtra says: “There are a lot of girls from AP in Vani.” While the police allege that she herself dealt in minor girls, she refutes it. “We too were forced into this business¿ why will we sell minors? Yes, we do trade in other girls. The other brothels around us do get children from AP. But it’s not our fault. It’s their own parents and siblings who come to sell them,” she says.

SP of the Women’s Protection cell in Hyderabad, Mahesh Bhagwat, says that many red-light areas prefer girls from AP.

In Andhra Pradesh, records show that the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundrabad have the highest number of missing children in the state. In 2006, 1,031 of the 3,497 missing children were from here, and another 766 from neighbouring Cyberabad. Meena says that as labourers from rural areas migrate to the cty in search of jobs, many of their children are left unattended. Most of those missing are, in fact, from the lower strata of society.

Officials say that problem is worst in Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad as well as the coastal East and West Godawari districts. As in the recent case where 37 girls were recovered in Maharashtra, most of the minors that go missing are not reported in the state.

“In AP, the problem of missing children is compounded by factors like illiteracy. Social systems like the Devadasi system also endorse prostitution, making the police’s job harder,” says Union Women and Child Development minister (and Khammam MP) Renuka Choudhary. According to Choudhary, almost 40 per cent of trafficking originates in AP. Police officials say that there has been no survey to gauge how much trafficking originates from AP, but they place the figure “around 25-30 %.”

While Childline Hyderabad’s Isidore Phillips agrees that a large number of children that go missing from AP are trafficked, he says, “It’s not just trafficking for prostitution. There is also trafficking for labour, which is rampant. And while attaching the label of trafficking, we should not lose out on kidnapping for ransom.”

Phillips, who deals with a large number of missing children in Hyderabad, says, “There is a vast gap between reported and unreported cases. The police are reluctant to register FIRs for missing children. The Juvenile Justice act says that every police station must have a Special Juvenile police Unit and a Child Welfare Officer. This is non-existent.”

The state has no special team to tackle the problem of missing children. “We have no special team to find missing people,” says M. Ratan, Addl. Director General, CID (which deals with missing people).

“We can’t have a special unit for every different activity. It is the job of the local police and the SP of the district to find missing people,” he says.

Every fortnight, the CID compiles a list of missing people, along with photographs, and circulates it to all police stations as well as neighbouring states. T Krishna Prasad, who as Additional Director of the AP Police Academy trained three new Anti-Human Trafficking Units, says, “From the searching point of view, there is an issue. Something is missing¿ everyone is concentrating on sending, not on searching. We send pictures to districts, but nothing happens after that. There is no systematic approach to search for missing people. It’s not a job that police can do effectively. We should possibly employ some NGO for the job along with incentives.”

Other than trafficking for labour and prostitution, children from AP are also forced into begging or kidnapping. Though there have been cases of children being sent to the Gulf as child camel-jockeys, officials say such cases are difficult to track down, as parents are involved.


Poverty and crime throw Bihar kids to ransom gangs, labour agents


FEBRUARY 6 : • On November 14 last year, 13-year-old Deepak Kumar, son of a railway employee, set out from home but never reached school. Police said he had run away but then the family got a ransom call. The family driver became the prime suspect and police detained his wife. On January 10, the remains of the boy were recovered from a forest in Jharkhand.

• When his son Lalu, 13, was offered a job in a vermilion factory in Delhi, Dolai Paswan of Kushiar in Araria was happy. He felt the boy’s income would help. After all, he and his wife had nine children. For over a year, the boy used to send money home. Then he stopped. The family was told that Lalu had run away. Dolai never lodged a case. He doesn’t even have a photograph of his son. “My son had gone with another boy. His father told me not to lodge a case. He said my son would return some day,” said Dolai.

If Mumbai is the “final destination” of children gone missing, Bihar is perhaps the starting point of that journey. For, it is here, in this poverty-stricken state, that the collapse of the law and order machinery has allowed crime to flourish as a cottage industry: kidnapping-for-ransom is rampant, flesh traders move freely and children from poor homes are packed off to cities as cheap labour where they work as domestic helps or, like Lalu Paswan, in small factories.

Once the children go missing, parents rarely file cases — many fear they will get into trouble because it was they who had let the agents take them away, hoping some money would come home every month.

Some are too poor to even have photographs to hand over to police.

Kidnappings often involve two or three gangs, which coordinate operations in which one gang abducts, another gang hold the victim, moving him from place to place to avoid detection, and still another gang collects the ransom, which is shared.

Most families pay up, especially if the victim is a boy. Police say it is very rarely that girls are kidnapped for ransom.

The Patna High Court, while hearing a PIL on kidnappings, sought figures from district judges. Statistics showed that over 1,800 kidnapping cases were lodged in 2006 and 1,697 in 2005. This year, the figure stands at 143. But these figures, officials admit, are only a fraction of what’s happening on the ground. Most cases go unreported.

When Gaurav Kumar alias Golu (10) of Patna’s DAV School was kidnapped in 2005, there were large-scale protests.

According to police, he was picked up by a small gang while returning from school and handed over to a second gang and, finally, to a gang operating both in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh led by one Guddu Rai.

“Police took a lot of time to recover the boy since more than one gang was involved in the kidnapping,” said a police officer involved in the search operation.

Golu was lucky. Since 2001, 44 children have been killed by their captors.

It is feared that many children who remain untraced may have been killed. “Gangs bury bodies in river beds, making it extremely difficult to trace them,” said a police officer.

While abduction-for-ransom is now an industry, the state police neither have a special cell to crack down on gangs or trace missing children. A Missing Persons Cell under the CID is virtually defunct.

But Director General of Police Asish Ranjan Sinha maintains “the entire police force is engaged in cracking down on organised gangs. Nobody is being spared. There has been a marked change in the safety and security atmosphere of the state as a result of police action.”

But that gives no hope to Saraswati Devi whose son disappeared over a year ago. She says that when she approached a Danapur police official, he told her: “This case is not mine. Your son has run away. What can I do? Can you spend money?”

Advocate M P Gupta, who moved the High Court on the kidnapping of children, says the police get into the act only when it’s a high-profile case. “Police act with determination only in cases that are high profile and generate a media outcry. As for other cases, they just sit over it,” he said.

As for children who go missing after being handed over to labour agents — most end up at dhabas, construction sites in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi — virtually nothing is done. Cases are rarely filed.

Sakunia Devi has waited five years now for her son Dusay Kumar to return. After her husband died, he gave up studies and came in contact with a contractor who promised him a job in Punjab. Within a few months, he sent home a money order of Rs 1,000.

But after that, no one heard from him Other boys from the village said he had run away.

After the Nithari incident, Bhoomika Bihar, an non-governmental organisation working to prevent trafficking in girls, received a number of complaints of Bihari boys missing from the states they had gone to work in.

A survey of 15 panchayats in Araria and Katihar districts had this result: 194 boys, all minors, missing. Of these, 109 had been taken away for jobs, the rest had run away.

“Labour contractors exploit the acute poverty in the region. They pay money to parents and take away the children, promising jobs outside the state,” says Arun Singh of Bhoomika Bihar.

That missing children is not high on the priority list of the state government is evident from the fact that there are no figures for the number of labourers, adults or minors, migrating from Bihar.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Soon, NHRC norms for the missing

New Delhi: : Following the gruesome Nithari serial murders — mostly of missing children — the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has decided to formulate guidelines for the police to tackle cases of missing persons throughout the country.

Acting chairperson of NHRC Justice Shivraj V. Patil said “the Commission would soon deliberate on this important human rights matter and issue a set of guidelines for the police.” The Commission, he said, could recommend what efforts the police must make in tracing the missing persons.

Criticising the government for neglecting children, Patil said the budget for “children’s causes” in India was almost “negligible.” “This amounts to hypocrisy. Why are we feeling ashamed of allocating liberal funds for children?” he said while concluding a two-day conference on juvenile justice system.

The conference attended by legal experts and officials from states and the Centre explored loopholes into the juvenile justice system in the country.

Patil said since the implementation of juvenile justice laws by most states was tardy, the NHRC would play a more pro-active role in ensuring the monitoring of their implementation. To begin with, the Commission would call a meeting of all NGOs working for children’s rights to focus on their role in acting as the watchdog for implementation of the plethora of laws India has on children.

The Commission, he said, would also crack the whip on the states that are dragging their feet on implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2006. The amended law makes it mandatory for the states to set up Juvenile Justice Boards and protection homes at district levels.

The conference strongly recommended that justice for juveniles should be completely delinked from the mainstream justice since “children cannot be treated as offenders.” Patil even suggested that juveniles should be let out on bail on furnishing personal bonds and saved from being put into institutionalised custody for long.”

Another key suggestion at the conference was about the need to involve children in deciding policies and laws that effect them directly.


3,000 missing children, number of staff in Gujarat missing cell: 2

Vikram Rautela / Sreenivas Janyala

AHMEDABAD, FEBRUARY 4: A curious nine-year-old Mukesh Vanzara ventured out of his home in Asarwa on September 6 last year to watch a religious procession. Still in his school uniform, that was the last his mother saw of him. Since then, it has been countless rounds to the Shahibaug police station for the poor and completely broken Vanzaras. The police first refused to acknowledge a complaint, then Mukesh’s Asarwa Municipal School intervened and filed one on behalf of the Vanzaras. With no word from the police, father Madanlal, who works as labourer, searched all over north Gujarat, even visited his village in Rajasthan to look for his son. Mukesh’s mother Narmada, who is a cart-puller, has, in fact, contacted so many people that she has exhausted all photographs of Mukesh. With only one photo left, the couple gets photocopies made. They want the police to put up posters of Mukesh’s photo which his school has prepared but with the police not taking any interest, Narmada’s meagre earnings of Rs 50 now go into making photocopies of the poster. She pastes it wherever she goes.

Jayanti Chauhan, 15, went missing on March 8, 2006. For his poor parents, both of whom work, it is a dilemma — if they go searching for him, the family, including Jayanti’s sister and 80-year-old grandfather, will starve. Still, they have been knocking on Vatwa police’s doors. The day Jayanti went missing, father Vishnu Chauhan went to Vatwa police to lodge a complaint. Instead of registering his complaint, Chauhan was told to wait for a “couple of days’’. A few days later, after persistent efforts by Chauhan, the police registered a complaint. Though Chauhan kept visiting the police station, he has never been informed what the police have done to trace his son. In September, 2006, a policeman came home to ask if the boy had returned. “If he returns, just inform the police station,’’ he said and went away.

Scrutiny of records shows that Gujarat’s children go missing while going or coming from school or playing near their home or in crowds at marriages or religious processions. Between 2001 and 2005, 1,054 children in the age group of 6 months to 18 years, were reported missing. Figures for 2006 are being compiled while according to police records in the past 15 years, 2,896 children have been reported missing and not found from various cities and districts of Gujarat. More than 80% go missing from urban areas.

Interviews with police officers and parents and an analysis of official records shows that while there is no clear pattern in the missing children, the following trends can be discerned:

n In south Gujarat, Surat and Valsad, children are mostly lured by peer groups. The boys are promised jobs in restaurants in Mumbai or to work as extras in films. Girls usually end up in prostitution rings. Surat district in Gujarat tops the list of missing persons — 1075 in the last 15 years. Says Surat’s former police commissioner Sudhir Sinha and now Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence): “Children missing from this area are either picked up or lured by agents with promises of jobs or a better life. But they mostly end up as child labour or bonded labour. Girls are sold off to prostitution rings. In a number of cases, the children are simply fed up of abusive parents or dismal living conditions and run away from home. Children of migrant labourers who are forced to live with 10 or 15 others in a single room are often found missing and form the largest group of missing persons. Their nearest destination again is Mumbai.’’

• From north Gujarat, missing children usually end up in cities like Ahmedabad or Vadodara where they join beggar gangs or are forced to work at roadside tea-stalls.

• In Saurashtra, the needle of suspicion points to quack doctors and tantriks. At least 16 cases have been registered between 2001 and 2006 in Rajkot, Junagadh, Surendranagar and Jamnagar where “tantriks” were involved in “lifting children.”

“We can understand where missing children from Gujarat end up by looking at the condition of children from other states who end up in Gujarat. They are into begging gangs in which five and eight-year-olds, both girls and boys, are forced to beg by their seths, ragpicker gangs, prostitution rings and human trafficking rackets,’’ says Chaya Joshi, who runs Childline, an Ahmedabad NGO, which rescues such children.

“Girls and boys as young as five are sexually abused by employers who bring them as servants. They are often brought here by agents from whom the employers buy,’’ she says. ‘’They are so young when they are brought here that they don’t remember where they belong or who their parents are,’’ she says. Childline recently rescued two girls, Rekha, 8, and Shobha, 5, who were found loitering in Ahmedabad. Rekha, who is believed to have come from Mumbai, was found to have been sexually abused. Both girls now live in a residential school near Mehsana.

Shubham, a 10-year-old boy from Nagpur, was not only forced to beg but also work as a domestic help by his employer in Rakhial area of Ahmedabad. Talking to counsellors, Shubham revealed that his employer sodomised him regularly at knife-point. After coming to know of the extent of his abuse, he was sent for a HIV test which turned out to be negative. The mere mention of his employer’s name frightens Shubham. “He used to force me to drink and inhale charas sometimes. He would threaten me with a knife at my throat and did lots of things to me,’’ Shubham says and falls silent.

While it is difficult to trace a missing child who is unable to give his or her address, the police system makes it almost impossible. It begins with no FIRs being lodged in missing complaints. Says G C Raigar, Director General of Police (Home Guards) who also holds charge of the State Missing Children Cell: “As such, a missing complaint is not a crime complaint. Missing cases are not investigated as an offence because there is no crime involved per se unless it is a confirmed case of kidnapping. Obviously, current and serious issues take precedence over missing complaints. Not even an FIR is registered and priority is very low.’’

Gujarat does have a Missing Persons Cell at Gandhinagar but it’s all of two people, a police inspector and a constable. So the cell only compiles information on missing persons collected from various district headquarters. Because of lack of personnel, the cell ends up investigating only those cases on priority which are directed by the High Court, or if instructed by Home Department, Director General of Police or the Chief Minister’s office.

Says Inspector J B Solanki, who relinquished charge of the cell last week: “With two people, it is very difficult to keep track of cases and do a satisfactory investigation. We only issue look-out notices, stick posters.”

In Ahmedabad, a five-member squad was set up two years ago under the Prevention of Crime Branch (PCB) which deals with missing persons. However, tracing missing persons is very low on its priority. “The members are mainly on VIP security duty or festival bandobast. We try to do our best but shortage of man-power is a major obstacle,’’ an official said.

However, in reality, it’s the police themselves who discourage parents from filing complaints. Take the case of nine-year-old Mukesh Vanzara. “When we went to Shahbaug police station, instead of registering the complaint immediately, police asked us to wait if my son returns on his own,’’ says Narmada Vanzara, his mother. “The police did not help us in searching the places where we thought he could be. My husband and I searched ourselves. Even today, four months later, when we go to the police station, many times they refuse to meet us.”

Says missing 15-year-old Jayanti’s grandfather Kantilal Chauhan: “When I go to the police station, the police in turn asks me if my grandson has returned. They are of no help. When I persist, they get angry and say my grandson is not the only missing case and they have better things to do.’’

Even when a proper complaint is registered, the biggest impediment is police investigation itself.

“In Gujarat, there is no system or mechanism in place by which a missing complaint filed at one police station is relayed to another even in the same city. If the complaint is registered at one police station and another police station finds the child, they are absolutely clueless about him or her. They wouldn’t have the information that a particular child is reported missing from the neighbouring police station a few kilometres away. If coordination within a city is so poor, you can imagine how difficult it is at intra-state or inter-state level’’ says ADG (Intelligence) Sudhir Sinha.

“What is probably needed is a special agency or coordination cell which exclusively deals with missing persons with a dedicated staff. That should not improve inter-state exchange of information but given timely tip-offs or notices, it will surely help in detecting a number of cases,’’ Sinha says.

The Police Manual itself does not give much importance to dealing with cases of missing persons or unidentified bodies. In Gujarat, in case of a missing complaint, not even a proper FIR is lodged. There is no system of investigating officers reporting the progress of investigation to their seniors.


Flesh trade to beggar mafia: Mumbai capital for missing children

Stavan Desai / Sagnik Chowdhury / Smita Nair

Indian Express February 6

MUMBAI, FEBRUARY 5: • For over three years now, the Agarwals in central Mumbai have been waiting for their son Raj. A Class IX student, he never returned from school on November 18, 2003. That same day, his mother Arti received a ransom call for Rs 5 crore. A police team camped at their home, monitored calls and Rs 5 lakh was agreed upon to trap the ‘kidnappers’. The ransom was paid but Raj never got back. Agarwal moved the Bombay High Court which issued notice to the police on March 3, 2004. The very next day, police arrested five persons who they claimed had abducted and killed Raj near Pune. Agarwal was told that some skeletal remains had been found. But DNA tests concluded that the remains were not Raj’s. Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Meeran Borwankar conducted a separate inquiry and, in a two-page report, saying the accused had been arrested and that allegations of faulty investigations were untrue. Raj remains untraced, his father still fighting in court.

• Jabeer was abducted from a mosque in Darukhana in December 2004. Two women befriended his mother, distracted her and ran away with the child. The police closed the case after making two rounds of the mosque and taking the parents to the police remand home for kids. The sketch of a woman was circulated but Jabeer Sheikh remains a ‘missing minor’ entry in the Sewree police register.

Maximum city Mumbai is also number one when it comes to missing children. In 2006 alone, Mumbai’s missing minor registers recorded 948 children as untraced. According to the Missing Persons Bureau of the Mumbai Police, over 2,307 children have remained untraced in the last three years. Since 2002, more than 650 children, on an average, remain untraced each year.

“If you ask me honestly, missing children and kidnapped children are not really looked at seriously. There isn’t a set pattern that has been observed here. But yes, child trafficking has gone up, including sex trade. Mumbai, therefore, becomes a hub as it has a large red-light area,” says IGP (Nashik range) P K Jain.

Nilima Mehta, former chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, says there are three major areas of concern: “Child labour, flesh trade, trafficking of children for other activities abroad.” The city’s beggar mafia itself, say child welfare activists, is another menace with children absorbed “through abduction from the city or the outskirts” for begging, especially during festivals.

But Mumbai Police commissioner A N Roy doesn’t think the situation is very alarming: “Children go missing in every city and I am not concerned about the number of cases.

A large number of missing complaints are registered every year, but most cases are detected and children are returned home. Being such a large city, a high number of cases is only to be expected.”

What Roy doesn’t say is that Mumbai has been partly responsible for India being placed in Tier 2 of the human trafficking watchlist by the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons — “The result of its failure to demonstrate increased Central government law enforcement response to India’s huge trafficking problem and inadequate local prosecutions in Mumbai and Calcutta.”

Those working on the ground are not surprised. Preeti Patkar, working with Prerna which is involved in rescue and rehabilitation of women and children, says “Mumbai today forms the source, transit and destination for missing children.” According to Patkar, majority flesh trade cases involve those in the age group 14 to 16 and the children are either sent to Mumbai or “are taken to Mumbai for a halt before being sent to the Gulf.”

Naval Bajaj, former DCP (Zone I), says: “It’s always difficult to detect girls being taken abroad because prima-facie they are accompanied by a relative or friend. They are also shown as going for jobs there. So it becomes difficult to stop them legally.”

Vikas Sawant of Pratham, an NGO looking into the begging network in the city, says: “Most children come from the northern states.” Pratham coordinator Kishore Bhamre points out that “it is difficult to bust the beggar mafia because they are always mobile”.

Despite laws in place, child labour is still rampant. “Barely one or two per cent of the children are from Maharashtra. Most here are from Bihar, UP and Delhi,” says Sawant.

Social workers say while poverty forces many parents to make their children work, at least 40 per cent are those who went missing or fled home. Vaishali Canisius, anti-trafficking in-charge from Save our Sisters, says Mumbai has become a destination point for trafficking within the country as also girls from Nepal and Bangladesh.

According to Patkar, flesh trade has seen a change in recent years. “Earlier, one had Kamathipura and South Mumbai as the red-light areas where a missing or abducted girl would eventually end. Today, they are distributed in a city which now has massage parlours, friendship clubs and a huge porn industry.”

Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Meeran Borwankar says “most children who remain untraced hail from a low socio-economic strata. The two main angles probed by the police in these cases are child trafficking and the begging racket. While trafficking is normally limited to girls, boys are made to beg on the streets.”

So is it easy losing a child in Mumbai? “Not really. Most children who leave home are lured by the glamour this city has to offer. They come to Mumbai thinking they will make it big here,” says Shaila Mhatre, chairperson of Child Welfare Committee. It is when they reach the city, in trains and buses, that children are pushed into all kinds of illegal trade.

Bhamre says not all is lost. He cites the case of 10-year-old Balaji who was found by GRP constables at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The child couldn’t board the train to Aurangabad while his uncle did. Balaji boarded another train and reached Mumbai. “Patrolling agencies like the GRP look for children wandering aimlessly at railway stations. He was brought to the shelter.” If such agencies, says Bhamre, were functional at bus depots too, many children can be saved.

In July 2006, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had formed a state level committee to combat trafficking in women and children. As part of the “Make Maharashtra a safe state” agenda, work was to begin in seven districts — Sangli, Beed, Latur, Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Osmanabad, high on the trafficking list. Deshmukh promised strict vigilance and rehabilitation measures. Six months later, the draft plan has been approved but is still awaiting implementation.

Just how high on the priority list are missing children? Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Arup Patnaik says “It’s a matter of fixing priorities. While we do investigate missing cases at local police stations, our main task is to maintain order in the city, check serious crimes.”

(With Ashutosh Patil, Smita Nair)


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Global tragedy: The world's suffering children

By Douglas Savage

Irecall a conversation I had with a shopkeeper in the Suq Hamadiya, the traditional market in the Old City quarter of Damascus. As we sipped our tea, I noticed a small boy in the neighboring shop. He was sitting on the floor repairing an antique carpet under a single, dim light bulb.When I expressed concern to my host, he responded casually, "Yes, probably he will be blind." Then he offered me more tea.The plight of children facing violence, exploitation and abuse is a global tragedy. The numbers are staggering.

UNICEF, the United Nations agency charged with protecting the world's children, estimates that there are nearly 250 million child laborers worldwide, with nearly three-quarters engaged in the most hazardous forms of work.

Over 1 million children are trafficked annually, many to face sexual exploitation and abuse.An estimated 300,000 child soldiers, some under the age of 10, are forced to participate in armed conflicts around the world.These statistics afford us the luxury of concern at an intellectual level with no feeling of direct responsibility.

In our interconnected world, however, the buck is not so easily passed. The complex web of global capitalism links us in ways not readily apparent.We need only go as far as the local candy store for an example.

As we present our loved ones with boxes of Valentine's Day chocolates next week, we might consider how they were made. In 2001, the U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization reported extensive use of child labor on cocoa farms. One study estimated a quarter of a million children between the ages of 9 and 12 were working in hazardous conditions on West African farms, many of them victims of child trafficking.

Despite industry promises of voluntary enforcement of labor standards, the problem continues. In response, child labor advocates have mounted a campaign to encourage consumers to boycott most corporate producers and only buy chocolate independently certified to have been made under international "Fair Trade" criteria.

While our participation in the process of exploiting child workers is often unintentional and unrealized, some members of our society bear more direct responsibility for the most egregious forms of intentional abuse involving the sexual exploitation of children.

Child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking in children are crimes that know no geographical boundaries.Pamela Shifman, UNICEF's adviser on violence and sexual exploitation, notes that while some of the worst abuses take place in war zones, the trade in children for sexual purposes is a global problem.

She'll speak at the Feb. 6 Great Decisions lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.World Vision, a non-profit relief and development organization, estimates that 2 million children worldwide are trapped in the commercial sex trade.Many of these children are either sold into prostitution to pay off family debts or forcibly recruited on the street.

As Shifman explains, "Sometimes children are lured into the hands of traffickers through false advertising; sometimes children are lured into the hands of traffickers by promises of a better life; but very often, children are lured into the hands of traffickers because they see no alternatives for themselves and their families, and they are desperate, and so they are willing to believe anything and do anything in order to survive."

The trafficking problem has been compounded by the Internet-fueled growth of organized child pornography and child-sex tourism operations.Typically located in poorer countries, these criminal enterprises owe their survival to clientele from wealthy nations. World Vision estimates that U.S. citizens account for an estimated 25% of child-sex tourists worldwide, with a much higher percentage in Western hemisphere countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica.

In an earlier age, we often saw our responsibility toward the world's children in terms of charity.Those of us growing up in the 1960s may recall classroom drives to collect toiletries for Project HOPE, which sailed its hospital ship around the world.

In the 21st century, the world has gotten considerably smaller, and our connection to the lives of its children more direct.As Americans, we must accept our role not only as benefactors but as part of the problem.We can choose to ignore the global implications of our actions, mindlessly buying the products of child laborers and otherwise contributing indirectly or directly to the processes of exploitation and abuse.

Or we can accept the responsibilities that accompany our position in the global order and use our economic and political might in pursuit of justice for the world's most vulnerable citizens.Douglas Savage is assistant director of the Institute of World Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Sold into Prostitution for $680

There is no justice for trafficked girls and women in Nepal

"My aunt lured me with tall promises of finding work in Kathmandu. But I ended up in a brothel in Pune," Sunita* broke into tears recalling the old wounds of the past. "I'm totally perplexed. No way for me to return anywhere," she said. "My aunt has ruined me completely."

Sunita was only nine-years-old when her aunt sold her three years ago. Her step-mother's cruel treatment and severe economic hardship forced her to accept her aunt's offer.

Her step-mother was too glad to grant her permission to follow her aunt to the capital. She only remembers what happened to her until she ate the food given by her aunt in the bus. After then, she fell unconscious. When her eyes opened, she found herself in a clean bed -- in a grand house. For a while, she felt elated but when she realized that her aunt had sold her for 30,000 Indian rupees (US$680), she couldn't believe it.

She tried to escape but was helpless before the guards. She went through extreme physical and mental torture. Hot water was poured upon her head, and they beat her with an iron rod until she fell unconscious. After some time, the torture became a part of her life. So had a "job" to submit her "body" to about a dozen customers every day for three years.

Then one day, Maiti Nepal -- "an NGO working in the field of increasing awareness to prevent girl-trafficking," with the help of Indian police, rescued nine girls, including Sunita, from the brothel.

"Today, all other girls have returned to their homes after receiving treatment. I'm the only one left here and working with the organization," she said.

"The organization, which has rehabilitated me, has inspired me. I will work with them to rehabilitate and rescue other several Nepalese women like me," she said, "I've only one aim -- I'll devote myself to the campaign against girl-trafficking."

This is not just a tale of Sunita of Nuwakot -- there are many Sunitas in various parts of Nepal and India. Nirmala has a similar woeful past. Her step-mother had taken her to Mumbai -- on the pretext of going to get medication -- where she spent about six years in a brothel.

Similarly, Rubina, hailing from Birgunj, was sold by her own husband. After nine months of marriage, her husband took her to Calcutta on the pretext of meeting his aunt. The aunt turned out to be a pimp. However, she was rather fortunate that she finally escaped with the help of one of her own customers. She has married the same man who helped her during the escape.

She has also found the man who sold her after a year long search. But the "dalal" (trafficker) is being defended by a few "big" persons of high status. He has been released from imprisonment -- and her case has been under review for the last five years.

"Even when I've found the man who sold me, the laws of this land are not able to punish him," Rubina said. "It provides protection to the women-traffickers and pimps, but discriminates against and denounces women like us."

There are about 300,000 Nepali women in Indian red-light districts and brothels. According to Maiti Nepal's estimation, about 5,000 to 7,000 women are trafficked out of Nepal every year. There are several organizations working in Nepal to prevent women-trafficking, but they have failed.

"Nepali women are being trafficked not only to India but to several Arabian countries and America as well," Bishwaram Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal said. "Even if they travel abroad to find employment, they are forced into the flesh trade."

Similarly, Dr Renu Raju Bhandari, President of OREK, which is working in the same field, holds that poverty and penury are the main cause of trafficking.

But it is ironic that the government has gradually cut off its services and assistance which it ought to provide to the NGOs and INGOs working to prevent women-trafficking and the rehabilitation of rescued women.

The government has not taken the issue of women-trafficking as seriously as it should, and the lack of necessary laws to punish traffickers and pimps has made the problem worse.

A few months back, one "dalal" went on to boast that he had sold at least 14 women. According to an advocate of Maiti Nepal, the traffickers are able to escape due to the ignorance and slow process of the judiciary.

Uma Tamang says: "A women who hailed from eastern Nepal was successful in rescuing three other women along with her from a brothel a few months back. But even when the women have filed complaints against the traffickers -- the police administration has failed to arrest them. They are roaming freely in front of their own eyes."

In some cases of trafficking, it has been found that the relatives of the victims have sold them in order to sustain living. They don't find it wrong. In Makwanpur, hundreds of girls are sent to work in the circus in India and ultimately fall into flesh trade.

"But the government is keeping mum -- overlooking the plight of its own citizens," Dr Renu Raj Bhandari expressed anger. "Even after their return, they are denied justice. They struggle to find funds for the legal procedures."

At the same time, the government has been working on Human Trafficking Control Act-2063. There are a few omissions in the Bill, which has been recently prepared by the government. The Bill should make special provision to punish those spouses who have trafficked their own wives. There are legal provisions to punish those who have trafficked women, but no provisions to prevent women-trafficking.

Many advocates say that the soon-to-be promulgated Bill still fails to bring the traffickers to book or prevent human-trafficking.


5 kids will go missing the next hour

Ritu Sarin Indian Express Feb 4,2007

NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 3 :Pushpa Devi lives in Laxmi Nagar, not more than a 30-minute drive from Nithari. Like millions across the country, she, too, would have watched the details unfold — of missing children, their suspected remains, bone fragments and the rage of their helpless parents. For her, however, the story had an all-too familiar ring.

Not only because her daughter Poonam Lal went missing for 10 years — she has since been traced — but it was her case that, five years ago, prompted the Supreme Court to issue a detailed list of do-s and don’ts on missing children. It’s a 12-point list that, for all practical purposes, gathers dust as police forces, across states, plead helplessness when asked the question: Where have the children gone?

In fact, missing children is the veritable black hole in law-enforcement. As an investigative series from several states will show, just like Nithari, where police failed to even acknowledge the problem, elsewhere, too, the typical police response is: the missing child is the parents’ problem, not ours.

And if Nithari shows that a missing child may end up buried in a neighbour’s backyard, the investigation shows that they can, as easily, end up in several places: as cheap labour in roadside shops, prostitutes in a brothel, exploited in the child-porn industry, kidnapped by the beggar mafia or even trafficked abroad.
Says Justice A S Anand, former chief of the National Human Rights Commission who, in 2005, sponsored the most definitive study yet of trafficking in women and children in India: “Where are all these missing children? They have obviously not vanished into thin air. Children are our assets and we only do lip service to the problem of missing children. Even when a report of a missing child is lodged with the police, it is treated as a minor issue. Everyone thinks the child will show up and if that does not happen, the case is forgotten and closed.”
The reason is simple, say police officers: given that a missing child, by definition, is one who could move or be moved from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, city to city, state to state, any effort to track her needs coordination at all levels. In other words, between police stations and, in turn, between states. Such a mechanism just doesn’t exist. This was exactly what the Supreme Court had called for. But more of that later.
Nothing captures the apathy to the problem better than the fact that nobody in the Government even knows how large the problem is.
Yes, there are figures with the police — some states don’t even have that — but these, officials themselves admit, barely tell the story.
Consider the following:
• The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the nation’s central crime research organization, tabulates only cases of kidnapped children which it puts at 3196 for the year 2005. Its website posts a list and pictures of 198 cases of missing persons, of which the number of children below 18 is only 66. Given that Nithari alone yielded a figure of at least 30 missing children, this shows how way off the NCRB data is.
• So it’s not a surprise that even Minister of Child and Women Welfare Renuka Chowdhary rubbishes these figures. “My feedback is that the figure of missing children runs into tens of thousands each year. I have asked all state governments to supply figures.” What she doesn’t say is that she gave them two weeks but not one state has replied. What she underlines, however, is the alarm: “I am apprehensive that another Nithari will happen if something is not done urgently.”
• Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation Vijay Shankar says that Nithari, for all its shocking revelations, isn’t much of a surprise. “It’s only a symptom,” says Shankar, who is supervising a team of 60 officers probing the case. “Nithari shows the larger malaise and a failure of the system to respond. There has been a serious failure on every count. Nithari happened because the police failed at the first point of delivery of justice, the administration failed with a just response thereafter and because society as a whole proved to be insensitive.’’
Perhaps, the most reliable estimate of the problem can be gleaned from a 700-page report on trafficking of women and children in India prepared in 2005 by P M Nair, a former CBI officer, who is now with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and sponsored by NHRC.
As the key investigator for the project, Nair says he did precisely what Chowdhary is trying to do now. All state governments and Union territories, except Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab and Sikkim, supplied figures of missing children between 1996 and 2001.
The figures show a gradual upswing in the number of missing children in several states, led by Maharashtra (yearly average: 13,881), followed by Delhi (6,227) and Madhya Pradesh (4,915).
The average number of children declared “missing” annually in the country was calculated at 44,476 — 122 each day — which included an annual average of 15,407 missing children from the six metropolitan cities. Of this, an average of 11,008 children remained missing. “Where these children are is a serious question to consider,” the study said and pointed out that among metropolitan cities, only Chennai had a good track record for tracing its missing children.
“Many of these untraced children end up either being trafficked or for prostitution which is a huge law enforcement and social problem. Unfortunately, there is no synergy between what the Government agencies and NGOs do to tackle the problem,’’ says Nair. His report draws disturbing linkages between missing children and trafficking and lists several case studies to illustrate this.
“Even if they (the parents) report to the police,” the report says, “the police station treats it as a case of a child going missing. By and large, the police view in such cases is that it is the child who has run away or managed to disappear and they tend to pass the blame on to the child...Since (the evidence) showed that a large number of children who are reported missing are trafficked and thereafter, are being subjected to different types of exploitation, there is an urgent need to combat the problem.”

That’s what the Supreme Court had done in the Poonam Lal case when her father and Pushpa Devi’s husband Hori Lal knocked on its doors in 1988 for help in tracing his 17-year-old daughter.
Since the police failed to trace Poonam and the Central Government did not come up with firm proposals, a set of guidelines were eventually framed by the judges themselves. These include: mandatory publishing of the picture of the missing child in newspapers, on television, in public places like railway stations and inter-state bus stops; making inquiries from a long list of people and announcing rewards for tracing the child.
But more importantly, the Supreme Court issued directives to all state Chief Secretaries and police chiefs to set up a multi-task force to trace missing children in all states.
It’s been five years since that order and now the Minister is waiting for the states to respond.


An eye-opener for police

Much more needs to be done to sensitise cops entrusted with the task of locating missing persons, says DEVESH K. PANDEY

The Noida killings have acted as an eye-opener for the Delhi police. Although they have initiated a series of measures to ensure that such gory incidents do not take place in the Capital, it seems much more needs to be done to sensitise police personnel who are entrusted with the task of locating missing persons. To begin with, the Delhi police have shown great alacrity in taking steps to send across a strong message to the public that their children are well protected here. Following a hue and cry over the Nithari killings in Noida, the top brass not only sought the updated data on missing persons but also directed the Deputy Commissioners of Police to keep track of pending cases of missing children and strictly adhere to relevant standing orders.
The most significant step has been the formulation of District Missing Persons Units (DMPU). The objective of this unit -- which is headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police -- is to constantly monitor complaints of missing persons in coordination with the Missing Persons Squad and the Crime Branch. While the DMPUs have now become functional and reports about missing persons are being meticulously tracked and recorded, some police officers feel that there is a need to adopt a judicious approach so that time and effort are not wasted on those missing people who have either been located or in whose disappearance there is no criminal angle involved.
In Delhi, the police have an institutionalised mechanism in place for enquiring into cases of missing persons. Going by the book, on receipt of any such complaint the police are required to flash a message to all the police stations relaying a description of the missing person. Hue and cry notices are then taken out and advertisements published and telecast to seek information from the public. In the case of missing juveniles, there is a standing order to compulsorily register a case of abduction if the child is not located within a short span of time.
Senior officers agree that despite these efforts there are chances that instances of organised crime like the Nithari killings may go undetected if cases of missing persons, especially juveniles, are not investigated on a priority basis. This can also happen in the absence of a sound ground-level intelligence network.
A case in point is a trend noticed in the late 1970s when there was a sudden jump in incidents of children going missing from different parts of South Delhi. Responding to the situation, the police had constituted teams to investigate the matter and caught hold of criminals who abducted the children. As it turned out, the abducted children were being forced into begging.
As this case illustrates, there is a need to take every "missing" complaint with all the seriousness it deserves because what may appear to be simple cases of "elopement" or "people going away out of their own choice'' can end up turning into Nithari-like episodes.