On July 7, Maduraaj was working as usual at a roadside tea shop in Industrial Area Phase 1 when Panchkula police picked him up under Operation Muskaan, a nation-wide initiative to reunite missing children with their parents.
The only problem: Maduraaj’s parents, who live in Bihar, knew his whereabouts. They knew the 15-year-old was staying with his aunt and uncle in a Sector 14 slum in Panchkula.
“The police took my nephew when he had gone to work in a tea shop in Industrial Area, and we learnt about it in the evening, when he did not return home till late,” said Nanhi, 35, as she appealed to the Child Welfare Committee to let him go.
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Newsline was present when the distraught Nanhi and her husband Nenku arrived at CWC the next day and pleaded for his return. Tears welled up in Nanhi’s eyes. She was under the impression that he had been arrested by the police.
The couple had come to know from the others who worked at the tea stall that the boy had been taken away by policemen to the Sector-2 police post.
When they went there, they were told to go to Sector 19 police post, which has jurisdiction over Industrial Area Phase 1. It was there that they were directed to the CWC.
By then Maduraaj who had been produced before the CWC, which sent him to a children’s shelter home.
Maduraaj is among over 140 “missing children” found in Panchkula and reunited with their parents since the launch of the Operation Muskaan on July 1. The details of these children have also been uploaded on the website, http://www.trackthemissingchild.gov.in.
However, the CWC, where the children are required to be produced by the police after taking them into custody, stated that most of the children being produced by the police are not actually ‘missing children’.
“Most of these children are those who are working as roadside vendors, or in some shop, and are taken by the police, then brought to us. And, the next day, their parents/guardians come looking for their children. This is not the purpose of Operation Muskaan,” said CWC chairperson Devender Kumar, adding that he had discussed the issue with the police earlier as well.
Kumar said he did not have the exact number of such children, but most of the cases that had come to him under the operation were of this nature.
However, when contacted, Commissioner of Police O P Singh said, “There is no operational definition of missing children. So, children who are missing out on their childhood are also among the missing children.”
In such cases, the CWC chairperson said, the parents had to go through many hassles to get their children back.
The parents have to first submit their identity proofs, and that of their child. The presence of a witness, who has to be a local resident, is also necessary. Apart from Maduraaj, Newsline learnt that another child, Rohit, 10, who was found working in a salon in Sector 2, and Rajneesh, 14, who was found from a public place, were also taken by their parents soon after they got to know about the police action.
Maduraaj’s aunt has now sent him to his native village in Hardoi district of Bihar, fearing a repeat of the police action.
“Maduraaj had been staying with us for the last two months, as his mother is not well. Recently, he started working at a tea stall. So, when we learnt that he was taken by police, we rushed to Sector 2 police post, then to Sector 19 police post, after which we were told that he was with some officer in Sector 2 (CWC). We showed our ID proofs, and took him back,” added his aunt Nanhi.
The CWC chairperson said, “It is true that these are child labourers, and their parents need to be scolded for making them work. But the whole purpose of Operation Muskaan is defeated. The purpose is to track missing children and help them unite with their parents.”
The Police Commissioner said that such children were vulnerable and could run away anytime, as they were being made to work. Therefore, it was necessary to upload their details on the website, even though they had been claimed by their parents/guardians.
According to the CWC, at present, there is no child brought by the police under the Operation Muskaan who is admitted to any of the four children shelter homes in the district.