Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar:  Thirteen year old Ripu Pradhan (name changed) was born in an extremely poor family in Gajapati district. His father, Laxman Pradhan, who has a hand to mouth existence, got fleeced by agents of a placement agency. A deal was sealed. While his tender-aged son will earn Rs 5000 per month, Laxman was given direct one-time cash support of Rs 20,000 as an advance.

Laxman filed a police complaint, when, after a-year, could neither connect with his dear son, nor was he conveyed about the whereabouts of Ripu. The agent had, very cleverly, never given any contact number. Feeling terrified and helpless, he reached the police station in the district and lodged a complaint in 2018.

In year 2019, Odisha crime branch special task force (STF) constituted under ‘Operation Smile’ had rescued him from a cashew nut processing unit in Ganjam district. Ripu was among the few fortunate children who could be tracked down. But fortune fails to ‘smile’ on many missing children lot in Odisha.

Take a look at the statistics. And how has been the enormity is the situation of missing children in Odisha will then be anybody’s guess.

A New Trend in Odisha

As per the police statistics, in the last 30-days, as many as 102 children in the State had gone missing, which means more than three children in the State go missing every day. The statistics further indicates that only six of the missing children had been traced during the period.

Moreover, an analysis of missing children recoveries last year reveals an evolving sinister trend in the State. Data shows nearly 50 per cent of the recovered children who went missing in the State in 2019 were below 10-year old. The location of recovery shows while sizeable numbers were found at railway stations in the State, some others were recovered from tourism centres like Puri.

Another pattern that has come to the fore is children in the age-group of seven years or below had been recovered from pilgrim centres. And children in the age-group of 10-15 were recovered from districts like Ganjam, Jajpur and Bhubaneswar etc. Also, many in that age-group were rescued from brick kilns in neighbouring states.

“Children getting recovered from the pilgrim centres show they have been brought with the purpose of pushing them into begging or engage them as cheap labour in hotels and hospitality sector there, “said Ranjan Mohanty, a noted child activist.

What Statistics Say? 

The data with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) looks very grim. In 2019, the count of missing children in the State stood high at 3,151. And the number of girl children account for a whopping 82 per cent. The very data of NCRB puts the recovery rate at mere 27 per cent, the poorest tracing rate in the country.

Not only missing children, Odisha had also recorded around 202 child trafficking cases in the year 2019. The State witnessed the trafficking of five children in every 10 days. Over 53 per cent of trafficked children were girls. The consolation is, unlike missing children, the Odisha police had ensured a recovery rate of 100 per cent of child trafficking victims, reveals the NCRB report.

Why More Girl Children are vulnerable?

Sadly though, the trading of Girls has emerged the most lucrative venture in the country. Young girls are being coerced into the confines of brothels or as domestic slaves in affluent homes, observed Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, chairperson of Global March against Child labour, in a symposium.

“It’s a $360 billion market. Agents, in the guise of placement agencies, hire young girls before pushing them into brothels or affluent homes. Case study shows girl children from states like Bihar, Odisha and Assam were being lured into places like Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and UP etc,” lamented Satyarthi and further added that this is a kind of ‘black money’ that perpetrates the most heinous crimes against women.

The import of Satyarthi’s statement here is in order to curb the crime rate against women, law enforcement agencies in those states need to launch a crackdown on the agents who masquerade as placement agency officials and indulge in trafficking poor girls for flesh trade or forced labour.

Where Do The Trafficked/Missing Children Go?

As per the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report, child trafficking has a definitive link with missing children cases. And a research by the NHRC reveals that traffickers use a well defined route to transit the procured children from the source areas to the destination.

Significantly, the CBI has released the map of the transit route to all the DGPs of states, including Odisha. The transit route of CBI clearly highlights the districts in Odisha where the transit route of missing/trafficking children passes. The districts (see the image below) are mostly in the western and northern parts of the State sharing borders with Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. State Crime Records Bureau data shows Sundergarh, Sambalpur,  Mayurbhanj, Angul, Keonjhar, Nauapda etc as the hotbeds of missing/trafficked children in the State.

[caption id="attachment_502457" align="aligncenter" width="706"] The Trafficking Route Passing Through Odisha[/caption]


“The route is clearly well defined. The local intelligence units (LIUs) of the said districts need to remain alert to break the vicious cycle. Because, CBI believes in the PPP model of prevention, protection and prosecution, and police have to be pro-active to fight the growing menace,” reasoned a senior CBI officer in Bhubaneswar while requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to directly interact with the media.

“Odisha police need to follow the model of Delhi police, where the police commissioner had announced incentives for policemen upon tracing at least 50 missing children,” observed child activist Ranjan Mohanty.  

Lens on Odisha Police

Emphasising on the fact that district police have a major role in the investigation, tracking and busting of the trafficker module in the said districts, a senior police officer said missing case reports need to be immediately registered with the police. A time lag may erase the trail track.

“In Odisha, nearly 90 per cent of girl children gone missing are in the age-group of 15-18 years. Our investigation revealed that almost all the missing cases were actually elopements. Parents delay in reporting the instances to the police. And at times, when they (the missing children) return, the parents try to settle things at village level. Police are not informed about the status of missing girl even after their return,” alleged a senior Police official with the State Crime Branch.