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LAKSHMY DEVI VENKITESWARAN NEW DELHI | 27th Nov 2011
hile there is much hoopla about increasing crime rate in general, a report by a Delhi-based NGO, published last week reveals that kidnapping and abduction of children have increased by 935% in the last 15 years. According to Twenty Years of CRC: A Balance Sheet, a study by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights that analysed the 2009 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of reported cases on kidnapping of children in India increased from 894 in 1994 to 8,945 in 2009. These numbers are even more disturbing when you consider that NCRB takes only the First Information Report (FIR) and not the Daily Dairy (DD) entries.
So is there an increase in the actual crime rate? Or is it that more people are reporting them now? A bit of both, but the latter is more likely, says Amod Kanth, chairman of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights. "In the 1990s, other than murders, not many reported a missing child. So, if a kid was kidnapped, unless he/she is from an affluent or rich family and the case got media attention, it was never reported. That's why most cases end up as DD entries," he explains.
"In 2008-2009, for instance, the NCRB reported that 2,982 kids went missing in Delhi, out of which 368 were found. In about a few months, due to my commission's insistence, an investigation was conducted in each missing case and we recovered 1,700 kids. Many of those cases were converted from a missing report to kidnapping. The courts (HC and SC) insist that missing cases have to be registered as kidnapping but it is done only if the family or parents of the child raise the issue," he adds.
There is also another problem. Policemen are often accused of being lackadaisical in their preliminary investigation of DD entries. "An FIR is filed only after the police verify the facts of the DD entry. Most of the time, they do a hotch-potch job and close the case saying they didn't find any credible evidence to pursue it," says Bharti Ali, co-director of the Delhi-based NGO.
Kanth concurs and adds that registration creates accountability. "Senior policemen rarely sidestep child kidnapping cases. If there is a lapse, it is only because the system is obsessed with curbing crime through numbers," he retorts. "If a senior officer files an FIR, it adds a number to the crime rate and that's never a good sign. When number of crimes has increased, the legal system, senior bureaucrats that policemen report to and even the media hype the numbers, without understanding how the system works. Finally, the law enforcement agencies look like culprits."
Ali also blames the infighting between courts and commission. "They argue about who is in-charge of the case and hardly interact. For instance, when the government locates child labourers, they're sent home without producing them to the Child Welfare Committee. How can we track them?"
Moreover, when children from rich or affluent families are kidnapped, often the accused is known to the family. "If there's demand for money, most families pay the ransom and don't report the case. Their only concern is safety of the child, which is understandable but on the downside, the criminals remain unidentified," adds Ali.
Poor kids are kidnapped often for trafficking, labour, marriage, begging, slavery, prostitution, etc. "I guarantee that out of the 8,945 cases in the report, at least three-fourth hail from the poorer sections of the society. Considering how time-consuming and expensive the legal system is, it's hardly surprising that poor families rarely report a missing child," she avers.