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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar:  Odisha sees three children going missing every day and the State police takes nearly 10 days to  recover three missing children. With such a snail's pace of recovery, the State languishes at the bottom in the country.

And the big worry for Odisha is the whereabouts of a massive around 4,400 girls who have gone missing since 2012 are yet to be known.

Sample this.  Odisha police registered 970 missing children reports in 2018-19. The State police could only trace 134 children. The recovery rate stood at nearly 14 per cent, which is second lowest after Jharkhand.

As per the latest data available with Union Home Ministry,  Odisha has reported a whopping 10,480 missing children cases since the year 2012. The gender divide puts the missing girl children at around 7,800.

While Odisha police have recovered 4,588 children (boys + girls),  it has no clue about the 4,400 missing girl children from the State. The recovery rate of the missing children during the period 2012-19 has been a mere 44 per cent, which is 4th lowest nationally after Jhakhand, Bihar and Assam.

The UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had earlier identified eight States – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Chhattisgarh - as the epicentres of child trafficking.

Incidentally,  an analysis shows the recovery rate of missing children poor in Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Assam. While West Bengal topped the country in missing children, the recovery rate stood at 67 per cent. The trace-out rate in Andhra Pradesh is also at 61 per cent.  But MP and Chhattisgarh now have a higher recovery rate of over 80 per cent.

Why the over 4,400 missing girl children are assumed to be trafficked? As per the Supreme Court direction, a missing complaint has to be converted into an FIR, and an investigation should be carried out on the assumption that the child is being trafficked or kidnapped. It also had directed the missing case to be considered a trafficked case, if the child couldn't be located within six months.

Since the missing numbers are hanging over since 2012, the reality flashes out a very grim fact in Odisha.

As Operations like Smile and Muskan have yielded limited success, it's time for the Odisha police, which is eager to launch Mo Sarkar, to take a leaf out of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)  recommendation.

Significantly, when the NHRC has recommended the State Government to involve the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in order to make the investigative procedures concerning missing/trafficked children more transparent and user-friendly, no such initiatives have been taken up in affected districts till date.

According to the NHRC Task Force on Child Trafficking, the police investigating teams need to involve the community at large, such as representatives of PRIs/ Municipal Committees/ Neighbourhood Committees/Resident Welfare Associations, etc, in addition to existing helplines so as to enable the community to get fully involved along with the police in tracing the missing children.

The NHRC committee has advised the DGP to seriously consider taking full advantage of these agencies in the task of not only investigating crimes relating to children but also in tracking down missing/trafficked children.

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