BHOPAL: As many as 5,446 cases of missing children were reported in Madhya Pradesh between January and July 2020. In 80% of the cases, the missing children were girls. In absolute numbers, this figure is 4,371, revealed a status report by Child Rights and You (CRY), ëCovid and Missing Childhoods: A Status Report from 5 Statesí. This figure was the highest among all the 5 northern states included in the study.
The status report was released by CRY on the eve of ëInternational Missing Childrenís Dayí observed across the globe every year on May 25. It draws inferences for 5 prominent northern states namely Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana.
Both primary and secondary data was used in the report to illustrate the state of missing children during COVID-19. Secondary data was accessed through the National Crime Records Bureauís (NCRBís) Annual Report, ëCrime in Indiaí (2015-2019). During Covid-19, to find out the incidence of missing children, Right to Information (RTIs) was used to gather data from the ministry of women and child development (MWCD), government and police departments of the respective states.
Impact of the lockdown
The study conducted to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown on the status of missing children revealed a total of 9,453 cases of missing children were reported in 5 statesónamely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhióbetween January and July 2020. Out of them, 57% cases were from Madhya Pradesh.
Emphasising the fact that the current health crisis has only aggravated the issue of missing children, Dr Mohua Nigudkar, faculty of School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, said, ìDue to the pandemic, the other implications in terms of loss of life and livelihood, rise in the number of school dropouts, child marriages, children orphaned due to Covid-related deaths of parents/guardians, and child trafficking has necessitated an even more urgent response to missing children.î
With 4,371 cases, MP had the highest percentage of missing girls, followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. The maximum variation exists in MP, where, on an average, 30 children were reported missing per day in 2019 (National Crime Record Bureau), out of whom 23 were girls, and 7 were boys. This variation continued in 2020, where, on an average, 26 children were reported missing per day (January-July 2020).
Drop in cases in lockdown
The maximum number of children was reported missing in February, that pre-lockdown. There was a drastic drop in the number of children reported missing during the lockdown months (March, April and May) with 271 children missing in April. With the first unlock in June, the number of missing children went up to 750 children. This reflects that fewer children were reported missing during the lockdown.
"The status report on missing children by CRY suggests that the numbers came down between March and April 2020 when the lockdown was strictly imposed, but a surge in the numbers was seen immediately after relaxation of the lockdown. The trend which raises concern is that the highest number of children who went missing was of the age group 12-18 years. Out of 5,446 cases of missing children, 4,562 cases were of the age group 12-18 years. This accounts for 84% of the overall cases. The situation is extremely alarming for girls as the status report suggests that, out of these 4,562 children, 89% (3,915 in absolute numbers) were girls."- Soha Moitra, the regional director, CRY (North)