While outrage over the rape of a five-year-old had engulfed the capital over the past week,little attention was given to the families of thousands of missing children,who with hope in their eyes,wait for their little ones to return home.
Most of these are families,from Delhis middle and lower-middle class,having nothing except memories of their children and their untold stories to cling on to.
The police station in East Delhi that came under the scanner over the brutal rape of child,has just eight police officers authorised to investigate cases of missing children for a population of over 3.5 lakh living in the area,highly placed sources told Newsline.
There are two inspectors,four sub-inspectors (SI) and two assistant sub-inspectors (SI) in the police station. Only they can investigate a missing childs complaint. The constables and head-constables are not authorised to investigate them, a senior police officer said.
On an average,it amounts to one policeman for every 43,750 residents in an area that as of Monday accounted for 55 missing children.
The issue of missing children,however,is not restricted to this East Delhi locality alone it is one which concerns the entire national capital.
According to Delhi Police records,9,553 children are still missing from the city,till date . The South Eastern range comprising East,Northeast and Southeast districts of Delhi accounts for almost one-third of them 3,435 children are missing from the range alone.
This is followed closely by the Northern and the South Western ranges,which account for 2,667 and 2,511 children missing,respectively. The least number of cases,780 children,have been reported from Central Delhi.
Of the 11 police districts,Outer Delhi accounts for nearly 1,560 missing children,followed by Southeast and Northeast Delhi,where 1,280 and 1,152 children,respectively,were not found. East Delhi,from where this five-year-old girl went missing,records a total of 997 missing children.
Delhi Police spokesperson,Rajan Bhagat told Newsline that nearly 15 children go missing from the city on an average per day. Of them,12 to 13 are recovered. Cases of abuse among these children are nominal and can be counted on fingertips,maybe one per cent. Very few,maybe one or two a month,are found dead, he said.
Abduction,voluntarily leaving home and elopement also feature regularly in police records. According to Bhagat,as soon as information is received about a missing child,his/her picture is uploaded on the police network.
We upload their photographs on the Zonal Integrated Police Network along with the childs details. A message is then flashed to all other police stations across the capital and its neighbouring cities. One officer is assigned to track the child and related developments in the case, Bhagat said.
However,Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee (Outer) Kamala Lakhani claimed the numbers were grossly underestimated by the Delhi Police.
The number of missing children is actually much higher. But there is no proper mechanism to evaluate the exact figures because many cases go unreported. We need a streamlined system,which,at present,is non-existent, Lakhani said.
She further said children in around 30-40 per cent of the reported cases are eventually recovered and many others stay missing for as long five to six years. Many are restored to other states,particularly Bihar,West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
We also try to restore children to their families in other countries. We have been highly successful with restoring children in Nepal,but have had great difficulty with minors from Bangladesh due to language and other issues, Lakhani said.
Although no statistics are available children subjected to sexual assault,harassment,molestation and physical abuse,the numbers,she maintained,were quite high.
In my district alone,we have received 28 such cases in just three months. There are seven districts,most of which have recorded nearly the same average. Often,children who go missing are subjected to sexual abuse by their own kin, she said.
Speaking about the sexual assault of an eight-year-old student of a government school,Lakhani said the accused was still at large.
Though the principal of the school was suspended,that alone is not going to solve the issue, she added. The onus to stop such assaults against children,Lakhani said,lies with society.
She also said not all policemen were alike,and claimed she had come across many who were highly sensitive towards the issue.
Social change is what we need. But,we also require mechanisms by the Delhi Police and the government to track these children better, Lakhani said.