May 21, 2013, New Delhi: The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India issued landmark directions for the protection of missing children and other child victims of crimes in the country. In a petition filed by Bachpan Bachan Andolan (BBA) on the issue of missing children and trafficking, a bench headed by Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Mr. Justice Altamas Kabir and comprising of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vikramajit Sen and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde issued the directions.
Accepting the contentions made by the petitioner BBA, the Hon’ble Supreme Court issued the following directions including:-
- All cases of missing children in India to be registered as a cognizable offence (as First Information Report) and investigated.
- In cases where First Information Reports have not been lodged at all and the child is still missing, an F.I.R. should be lodged within a month – this figure is 75,808 for the period 2009 – 2011 alone.
- In all missing children cases, there will be a presumption of the crime of kidnapping or trafficking unless proven otherwise from investigation – this is a landmark precedent as for the first time of “presumption of crime” for vulnerable sections of society is recognised.
- All complaints regarding children (for non cognizable offences), to be investigated after referring them to a magistrate.
- Each police station should have, at least, one Police Officer, especially instructed and trained and designated as a Juvenile Welfare Officer to investigate crimes against children.
- National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to appoint para-legal volunteers, so that there is, at least, one para- legal volunteer, in shifts, in the police station to keep a watch over the manner in which the complaints regarding missing children and other offences against children, are dealt with.
- A computerized programme (website), which would create a network between the Central Child Protection Unit as the Head of the Organization and all State Child Protection Units, District Child Protection Units, City Child Protection Units, Block Level Child Protection Units, all Special Juvenile Police Units, all Police stations, all Juvenile Justice Boards and all Child Welfare Committees, etc. to be created as a central data bank.
- Photographs of the recovered child to be put up on the website and through the newspapers and even on the T.V. so that the parents of the missing child could locate their missing child and recover him or her from the custody of the police.
- A Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) must be developed to handle the cases of missing children and to invoke appropriate provisions of law where trafficking, child labour, abduction, exploitation and similar issues are disclosed during investigation or after the recovery of the child.
- BBA to assist in developing the Standard Operating Procedure (SoP), and also, BBA to be the nodal agency for All India Legal Aid Cell on Child Rights, flagship scheme of NALSA to provide legal aid to any child in need of care and protection in the country.
- A missing child has been defined as, “a person below eighteen years of age, whose whereabouts are not known to the parents, legal guardians and any other person, who may be legally entrusted with the custody of the child, whatever may be the circumstances/causes of disappearance. The child will be considered missing and in need of care and protection within the meaning of the later part of the Juvenile Act, until located and/or his/her safety/well being is established.”
- Even after recovery of the missing child, the police shall carry out further investigation to see whether there is an involvement of any trafficking in the procedure by which the child went missing.
- The State authorities shall arrange for adequate Shelter Homes to be provided for missing children, who are recovered and do not have any place to go to within 3 months.
Arguing on the behalf of petitioner Bachpan Bachan Andolan, Mr. H.S. Phoolka, Senior Advocate said “Every hour 10 children go missing. Out of these only one case is registered and investigated. There is no hope for the poor parents whose children go missing”.
BBA had under taken a pioneering research for three years on the issue of missing children, following which this writ petition (Writ Petition Civil 75/ 2012 – Bachpan Bachao Andolan vs Union of India and Others) has been filed.
As per official government data, in India, during the period from 2009 to 2011 number of children that have gone missing are 2, 36, 014 and out of them 75,808 are still untraced. However, only 34,899 FIRs have been registered in all. These directions from Supreme Court will come as a relief to those hundreds of thousands of parents whose children have been kidnapped and are still untraced without any assistance from law enforcement authorities.
Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Founder, BBA said “It is a watershed moment not only in our three decade fight in restoring childhood but has also brought a fresh lease of hope for hundreds of thousands of missing children and their hapless parents, whose cries remained unheard due to the absence of legal protection and apathy of enforcement machinery. Our argument that children do not disappear in thin air but go missing because of an organized nexus of traffickers and mafias, has been finally upheld by the highest court of the land today”.
Mr. R. S. Chaurasia, Chairperson, BBA added that, “BBA will rigorously follow the enforcement of this landmark judgment and extends its support to the government in this regard”.
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