NEW DELHI: Child rights NGOs have flagged a sharp rise in the number of children who have gone missing in the last two years due to the social impact of COVID-19.
In order to prevent the situation for worsening, the organisations have called for the immediate strengthening of child protection committees at the village level, sensitising and training parents, and urged the government to make adequate budget allocation in this connection.
As per the latest figures of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 59,262 children went missing in India in 2020.
With 48,972 children remaining untraced from the previous years, the total number of missing children has gone up to 1,08,234.
There is almost a 13 times rise in the number of cases of missing children reported annually between 2008 and 2020, the NCRB said. As per the data, 7,650 cases of missing children were reported in 2008.
In the last two years, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), Kailash Satyarthi Foundation's sister organisation alone has rescued around 12,000 children from across the country Dhananjay Tingal, its executive director, said.
"This is ample proof to show that after the pandemic, child trafficking has increased manifold," he told PTI. On average, 29 children in Madhya Pradesh and 14 in Rajasthan went missing every day in 2021, according to a new report by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), which gathered the information through RTIs.
Tingal said some children were being trafficked with the consent of their parents, while few others voluntarily went with the traffickers. "Ultimately, a large majority of these children went missing," he said.
He urged employees of railways, roadways and others to immediately intervene if they come across any unaccompanied child or a child who is begging in public transport systems.
"Subsequently, such children must be brought under the umbrella of the government's safety net," he said.
Prabhat Kumar, deputy director, Child Protection, Save the Children, said increased poverty has become an overarching reason for children to go missing or become victims of trafficking.
He said the situation has worsened due to no schooling or lack of continuity in learning activities due to COVID-19-enforced lockdown and restrictions.
Soha Moitra, regional director (North), CRY, said many families in rural areas were already in debt, and the economic burden due to the pandemic increased further.
The pressure of paying back loans contributed to the trafficking of children of such families, for labour and marriage. She said mandatory use of face masks often made it difficult to identify traffickers and kidnappers.
"The government departments concerned in collaboration with the local administrative bodies and civil society organisations should come forward to create regular awareness on the importance of education of children with constructive activities," Moitra said.
In 2020, despite the complete nationwide lockdown for nearly four months, March to June, 59,262 children (13,566 boys, 45,687 girls, nine transgender children) were reported missing.
The share of missing girl children has increased from about 70 per cent in 2018 to 71 per cent in 2019, and further to 77 per cent in 2020, according to NCRB data.
On the other hand, the share of untraced children from the previous years accounted for about 42 per cent in 2018, 39 per cent in 2019, and 45 per cent in 2020 of the total missing children.