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Christin Mathew Philip,TNN | Mar 26, 2014, 06.34 AM IST
CHENNAI: This is no magic trick. It is a serious problem that the government is directly responsible for: More children are vanishing into thin air in the state with each passing year. The state has not only contributed to the worrying development but has neither a solution nor the resolve to tackle it, forget about a magic wand.
Eight children go missing in Tamil Nadu every day, a large majority of whom are girls.
Data obtained through the RTI Act shows there has been a steady increase in cases of missing children in the state — from 2,325 in 2010 to 3,063 in 2013. As many as 203 children vanished in 14 days, starting from January 1 this year.
The government has not been napping on the job. It's done a Rip Van Winkle. Its Missing Child Bureau, in the department of social defence, has existed only in name for the past seven years, with the state failing to appoint any official to the bureau since 2007.
The government set up the bureau in 2001 to coordinate with enforcement agencies and track down missing children. The official reason for it being dysfunctional is that the government is short of manpower: An excuse that's hard to believe given how overstaffed the offices of some departments are.
According to government statistics, 11,026 children have gone missing since 2010 and 879 remain untraced, with police failing to account for 488 girls and 391 boys. The breakup weighs heavily against girls, who account for 7,002 cases or 63% of the total, as compared to boys (4,024), a skew that the government should consider a cause for serious concern. The Juvenile Justice Act stipulates that an officer in every police station should be trained in child welfare. But, as social activist A Narayanan says, most police stations don't have child welfare officers.
"The fact is that the Missing Child Bureau has virtually shut down and police stations in TN don't have child welfare officers," said Narayanan, whose PIL on trafficking of children from the Northeast is pending before the Madras high court. "That's why more children are going missing every year." Activists say people working for gangs that have networks across the state snatch newborns from government hospitals in cities like Chennai and abduct children from busy public places.
Children who go missing face an uncertain future at best. Most often, activists say, organised gangs make them beg on the streets or work in factories, illegally sell their organs for transplantation or force them into child sex rackets.
Activists like Virgil D'Sami, executive director of child rights NGO Arunodhaya, estimate that half of all missing children cases are unreported, mostly because the victims are from families of migrant workers who cannot communicate with local officials because they don't know Tamil or English.
The Tamil Nadu police have their own take on the statistics. A senior police officer said the rise in missing children cases was mainly because of an increase in public awareness. "Also, most missing children are runaways," he said.
But facts and figures show that the assertion is specious. Here's a pointer to the state's lack of concern about the problem. The Supreme Court had in March 2013 issued notices to the Centre and states, asking them to file status reports on missing children. When Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh failed to meet a deadline extended by the apex court to submit the reports, a furious Supreme Court bench threatened to order the arrest of chief secretaries of these states.
Had things gone according to plan, the government would have tasked its Missing Child Bureau to prepare the reports. But the bureau is missing itself.