CHENNAI: “Every five minutes, a child arrives alone at a railway station in India,” said R Vidyasagar, research head and former child protection specialist of UNICEF, Tamil Nadu, at the launch of a research report on ‘Child Reunification Processes in Tamil Nadu: A Study on the Status of Children Protected and Reunified’ on Thursday.
The report shed light on how rampant the issue of ‘missing children’ was and attempted to study not only the reasons for children running away from homes but delve deep into the profiles of these children. It took a comprehensive look not only at the demographic factors but also the social factors at play. The report also looked at the readiness of the institutional framework to deal with the process of rehabilitation and reunification at different stages.
“The problem of children leaving homes is complex because of a multitude of factors - social, economic, institutional and administrative,” said Vidyasagar. “There are at least three stages involved in restoring these children - rescue, protection and prevention from risks. The process of reuniting the children with their families or placing them under long-term care in case of unconducive situations within families and thirdly, following them up to see that the conditions that were responsible for children leaving home do not occur again, implying family strengthening programmes.”
The study points out that family-related reasons are among the foremost that explain why children run away from home. Apart from this, school- and education-related factors too were important. “Among the children who ran away, it was found that 47 per cent of them were SCs, while 3 per cent were STs.”
Vidyasagar said. “The percentage of boys running away from homes was found much higher than that of girls. Of the 1,100 children belonging to districts in Tamil Nadu, 20 per cent were found girls. The number of children running away from rural and urban areas is almost the same and it was found that in urban areas, these children had lived in slums and a large proportion of them had mothers who worked as domestic servants.”
Interestingly, in Tamil Nadu it was found that the incidence of families not happy with children returning home was higher in urban areas than in rural areas. The study found that only 0.1 per cent of the missing children had FIRs registered against their names.
“In Chennai district, about 37 per cent of the families were not happy that their children were reunited,” Vidyasagar said. “This proportion is again higher in Ariyalur and Cuddalore districts with about one-third of the families not happy with the children returning home.
Rohithnathan Rajagopal, Superintendent of Railway Police, spoke of using technology to aid in finding missing children.“Using facial recognition systems for missing children by using a search algorithm can help to trace children who come to stations as comparisons will be made in real time,” said Rajagopal.
“Adopting big data analytics can also help as one can guess which train a child may be on and so on.”
The chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, MP Nirmala, too was present at the event.