India is home to more than 400 million children below 18 years. Together, youth and children comprise more than 55 per cent of the population. Missing children in India is an issue that requires much more rigorous and systematic attention than what it is getting at the moment. Based on state police Records, in 2005 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) informed that on an average every year more than 44,000 children are reported missing all over the country. Of these, around 11,000 children remain untraced1. It is believed that the numbers can be much higher as many cases of missing children may never be reported because families of these children are from a marginalised background and may not have the access needed to report a case of a missing child.
Of an estimated 11 million street children living in India, most live in and around railway stations. In each of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, approximately 100,000–125,000 street children figure in the list of missing, runaway, abandoned or trafficked children2. Lack of support puts them at risk from various forms of abuse and deprivation of rights that not only denies them a childhood but forces them to grow up way beyond their years hastily.
Approximately 70,000 children land on the platform in India per year. They come from all over India to find work, escape ill treatment at home, or they simply believe that a better life awaits them in the big city. It is evident that most of the runaway children hope for some form of deliverance and therefore gather enough courage to leave their home and the familiar behind to venture into the unknown territory. The condition of these children is of serious concern as they are often ignored. To grant them recognition would imply the acknowledgement of child labour and the concomitant failure of the state.
At the platform, they survive by begging, stealing and doing menial jobs, such as sweeping trains and platforms. Very often they fall victim to child traffickers who prowl the platforms in search of cheap child labour for local businesses. Children who have spent a long time living and working on the railway
platforms have often experienced violence, abuse and substance abuse. The CHILDLINE report on missing children examines the relation of trafficking to missing children. The report states that children are often kidnapped or trafficked for prostitution, organ donations, employment, and similar purposes3. About 90 per cent of India’s railway children come from a family with both parents, only three per cent are orphans4. There are girl runaways as well but their time on the street is much shorter than that of the boys. They are more likely to be immediately recruited into prostitution and other forms of exploitation. This puts them out of reach of any help from any organisation. However, it is important to note that street boys are also at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation5.
The socio-economic spectrum of missing children in India has great range and diversity. Children who leave home or disappear may therefore be categorized as missing, for any one or a combination of reasons which include:
- To earn a living
- To escape abuse
- To elope
- To escape perceived threat or stress such as may be caused due to exams or domestic violence
- For child labour
- For prostitution
- For ransom demands
This research focuses primarily on platform children and children in distress. While children are a vulnerable group there are some among them who are more marginalised due to poverty and due to other socio-cultural issues. These children are considered as Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP) and may be found in the following situations:
- In families ‘at risk’
- On the street
- In institutions
The following are some of the Vulnerable Groups that comprise the CNCP:
- Street children
- Orphaned, abandoned and destitute children
- Working children
- Abused children
- Children who are victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Trafficking
- Children engaging in substance abuse
- Children in conflict and disaster situations
- Children in families ‘at-risk’
- Differently-abled children
- Mentally-ill children
- HIV/AIDS-affected/infected children
- Juveniles in conflict with the law
Some important aspects to remember when taking decisions in relation to children6:
The ‘best interest of the child’ is the guiding principle in all work with children.
- A ‘rights-oriented’ approach is taken in all the decisions and rehabilitation plans for children.
- The child’s ‘right to participation’ is respected and the child is consulted while taking decisions in all matters that impact his/her life.
- All efforts must be made to ensure that the child grows up in his own family and in a nurturing environment.
- Prevention of family breakdown and destitution of children, and strengthening of families ‘at risk’ through supportive services is therefore the first priority and form of intervention.
- If the child’s own family cannot look after the child then other family based, community oriented alternatives should be considered.
- Long-term institutional care as a form of rehabilitation (such as commitment to an institution until the age of 18) should be the very last alternative for a child.
- When handling matters related to Children in Need of Care and Protection and Juveniles in Conflict with Law we have to ensure that all proceedings are conducted in a sensitive and child friendly environment, and with a ‘child-centered’ approach.
- 1 http://www.saralservices.org/Sathi.pdf/ Study of Database of Missing Children in India
- 2 Perspectives on Protection of Child Rights, NCPCR In Focus. August, 2010
- 3 www.childlineindia.org.in/missing-children-india.html
- 4 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/08/south asia indian railways runaway
- 5 Ashalayam: Street children rehabilitation programme. Kolkata. 2010
- 6 Mehta, Neelima, Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System. Childline India Foundation. April, 2008