Around 120 children – a maximum of whom are in the 10-18 age group – go missing in the city every month. In most of the cases, the police register a kidnapping case to compel investigation officers to put in more efforts to trace and/rescue the missing child. Excerpts from Dharmesh Thakkar's interview with Mumbai Police Crime Branch DCP (Prevention) Balsingh Rajput on ‘Operation Muskaan’ to track missing children and reunite with their families.
What is Operation Muskaan?
When thousands of children go missing in India every year, the concern for their safety falls squarely on several stakeholders involved in their protection.
‘Operation Muskaan' is dedicated to rescuing / rehabilitation of missing children in India. Mumbai Police has successfully traced 1,525 children from 2018 till February 2022 and reunited them with families. Mumbai Police with Ministry of Home Affairs takes periodic special drives to reunite missing and kidnapped kids and teens below 18 years of age.
Apart from Operation Muskaan, Mumbai Police Missing Persons Bureau, Anti Human Trafficking Unit and Local Police station also work exclusively to trace missing children and adults. A total of 13,440 missing children of 14,157 cases registered were traced from 2014 to February 2022.
Why do so many children go missing?
There are at least 67 reasons why children go missing. These include kidnapping and abduction, which are done for various reasons such as trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and child labour.
Another major reason behind children above the age of 15 years going missing is elopement. The other reasons include abusive families and unemployment.
Apart from these intentional cases of missing children, some unintentional reasons such as when children get lost in crowded places.
How does Mumbai Police trace and reunite the missing children with their families?
Apart from the routine duties, all the 93 police stations in Mumbai have a dedicated team of a sub-inspector and four constables to trace the missing children.
After tracing and rescuing the missing child, the police have to counsel and convince them to reveal their address or mobile numbers of their parents, which is the most difficult task in cases wherein a child has left home and does not wish to return.
Challenges for police to track missing children?
The manpower is less but we make sure that the kid is accompanied by a police constable. If it’s a girl, a woman constable accompanies her to the house. We have an SOP (standard operating procedure) specifying the number of police officers who need to accompany the kid, depending on the distance of travel.
Earlier, the money spent was shelled out by the police officers accompanying the child but now the police are given a budget or are refunded on their return after the state decided to give them ‘investigation fund’ since 2015.
The amount spent includes train tickets of the police constables and the child along with food expenses, travel within the home town to trace or reunite the child and the staying expenses of the police officers which is about Rs 5,000 per trip.
(To receive our E-paper on WhatsApp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)