Bhubaneswar: This just adds to the long-existing regressive image of the State.
Even as the State battles to find ways to overcome poverty and deprivation issues, kidnapping and abduction of children have emerged as a bigger malaise, requiring urgent attention of the government of the day.
The ghastly kidnapping and murder of five-year-old Nayagarh girl ‘Pari’ which hit public conscience following the desperate suicide bid of her helpless parents came as a wakeup call for the appalling state of affairs showcasing the vulnerability of children and a complete failure of the State in ensuring protection to its children.
The sheer number count of kidnapped children in the State speaks volumes of the enormity of the situation. As many as 13 children, including 11 girls, are kidnapped every 24 hours in the State.
Also, consider this. In the last 2-months, the Odisha police had registered over half-a-dozen of cases pertaining to the kidnapping of children. An analysis of the cases shows that kidnappings are rampant across age groups.
On September 30 this year, the Odisha police rescued an 18-month old baby from the clutches of kidnappers in Jeypore. In the next month (October 15), a 15-year old girl was rescued in Cuttack.
But this is just half the story. The data compiled by the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau)shows only 1 in every five children kidnapped/abducted in the State were rescued in 2019. The most glaring and recent instance is the Pari case.
As per the NCRB data, while the total kidnapping and abduction figures in the State stood at a massive 4,604, the victims under Section 363 of IPC were at 4,476.
Section 363 of IPC entails punishment of 7-years in jail and monetary penalty for the offences of kidnapping any children from India or from lawful guardianship.
In fact, kidnapping literally means child stealing, though in cases of elopement by minors also, aggrieved parents demand slapping the charges of kidnapping, said a senior State police official.
In the corresponding period, cases of kidnapping (elopement)stood at only 74. A total of another 55 minor victims were procured with the intent of illicit act. Both crimes fall under Section366 of IPC that entails 10-year jail term.
“The higher numbers of child kidnappings need to be seen in true perspective. Odisha actually has registered 160 child kidnapping cases in 2019, means where parents pressed for the charges or have suspicion of kidnapping. A massive number (4,316) of child kidnapping cases are in fact missing children cases, wherein there were no charges of kidnapping. Only due to the SC guidelines, the total number of kidnapped children grew to 4, 476,” explained ADG crime SoumendraPriyadarsi.
What is mention-worthy here is, as per a recent SC guideline, if missing children couldn’t be traced for 6 months, then police should consider the case as a deemed kidnapping case.
Significantly, children going missing in Odisha stood at a staggering 3,151 in 2019, and if around 2352 untraced children from last year are to be added to the list, the total number of missing children in the State at the beginning of 2020 would go up to 5,503.
The State has an abysmal tracing rate to show. Only 1,490 missing children had been traced so far, which comes around 27 per cent, the lowest in the country.
A cursory glance at the situation reveals that districts likeGanjam, Rayagada, Baleswar, Bhadrak, Nayagarh, Puri, Mayubhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Sambalpur and Angul have emerged as the hot spots of the alarming trend.
Dice it any away, the track record, when it comes to kidnapping or missing of children in Odisha, seems very pallid.
Why the pallid show?
Child rights activists squarely blame the Odisha police for the trend. “District administrations have no strategy to crack the whip on brokers who are part of organised rackets that supply cheap labour outside the State,” charged child Activist Ranjan Mohanty. He further added that the State lacked a coherent strategy to track and trace missing/kidnapped children.
On the other hand, police officials sought to put the blame entirely on the parents. “Parents file missing reports very late. Many cases get registered as late as 1-month after the incident. Late registration of missing reports hampers the tracking,” observed a senior police officer who spoke requesting anonymity.
“Odisha strictly follows the SOP issued by Apex Court for detecting missing children.” countered Priyadarshi.
An analysis shows the State does have a proper guideline on paper. But the SOP, which the Apex Court has prescribed, has enough teeth to bite.
For instance, the SC SOP asks giving wide publicity about the missing individuals in leading newspapers, TVs and even the local cable networks. Moreover, it advises for affixing hue and cry notices at prominent places, railway/bus stations, airports etc and flashing of WT message at all India level to all DCPs and SSPs. All of which are currently not adhered to in letter and spirit.
The State is yet to incorporate NHRC recommendation to involve the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for making the investigative procedures concerning missing/trafficked children more transparent and user-friendly.
The NHRC committee has even advised the DGP to take full advantage of representatives of PRIs/ Municipal Committees/ Neighbourhood Committees/Resident Welfare Associations etc, in investigating and tracking missing children, but State is yet implementing the recommendations, observed activists.
“Police should use ‘face recognition’ software in their patrol vehicles. It will bring dual windfall for them. Not only it will help find missing persons, but will also help in tracing wanted criminals,” Dhoble explained.