Child rights organisations have flagged a sharp rise in the number of children going missing in the last two years due to the social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A total of 59,262 children were reported to go missing in India in 2020, as per the the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). With 48,972 children remaining untraced from the previous years, the total number of missing children has gone up to 1,08,234.
Even the four-month long Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 did not stop the going missing of children, as 59,262 children were reported missing. The share of missing girl children has increased from about 70 per cent in 2018 to 71 per cent in 2019, and further to 77 per cent in 2020, according to NCRB data.
People working in children's domain have said the social impact of Covid-19 has worsened the situation.
Dhananjay Tingal of Bachpan Bachao Andolan told PTI that some children were being trafficked with the consent of their parents, while few others voluntarily went with the traffickers.
He added, "This is ample proof to show that after the pandemic, child trafficking has increased manifold."
The BBA has rescued around 12,000 children from across the country in the last two years, said Tingal.
In order to prevent the situation for worsening, the organisations have called for the immediate strengthening of child protection committees at the village level, sensitising and training parents, and urged the government to make adequate budget allocation in this connection.
There is almost a 13 times rise in the number of cases of missing children reported annually between 2008-20, as per the NCRB data.
On average, 29 children in Madhya Pradesh and 14 in Rajasthan went missing every day in 2021, according to a new report by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), which gathered the information through RTIs.
The BBA's Tingal urged employees of railways, roadways and others to immediately intervene if they come across any unaccompanied child or a child who is begging in public transport systems.
He added, "Subsequently, such children must be brought under the umbrella of the government's safety net."
Prabhat Kumar, deputy director, Child Protection, Save the Children, told PTI that increased poverty has become an overarching reason for children to go missing or become victims of trafficking. He said the situation has worsened due to no schooling or lack of continuity in learning activities due to Covid-19-enforced lockdown and restrictions.
Soha Moitra, regional director (North), CRY, told PTI that many families in rural areas were already in debt, and the economic burden due to the pandemic increased further. The pressure of repaying loans contributed to the trafficking of children of such families, for labour and marriage.
She said mandatory use of face masks often made it difficult to identify traffickers and kidnappers.
She added, "The government departments concerned in collaboration with the local administrative bodies and civil society organisations should come forward to create regular awareness on the importance of education of children with constructive activities."
The share of untraced children from the previous years accounted for about 42 per cent in 2018, 39 per cent in 2019, and 45 per cent in 2020 of the total missing children.
(With PTI inputs)