With more than 1 lakh pending & reported cases of missing children, the government has now come up with a model SOP for cases of missing children. This model SOP could be followed by all the states and defines the process including responsibilities of various stake holders.
There are more than a lakh pending cases of missing children each year as per the data from the ‘National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’. At the end of 2015, close to a lakh children who were reported missing are yet to be traced. The government had launched a ‘Track Child’ portal in 2012 to integrate the efforts to track missing children. Following the directions of the Supreme Court, the government has now developed a ‘Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)’ for cases of missing children.
The SC while hearing a PIL by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (WP (Civil ) 75/2012) directed the Ministry of Women & Child Development to come up with a SOP for cases of missing children since there were many SOPs developed by states. The government was asked to come up with a model SOP with the help of TISS so that uniform procedure could be followed through out the country.
The SOP is in consonance with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Model Rules 2016. The SOP mainly deals with the tracking of missing children and their rehabilitation after recovery. It defines roles and responsibilities of various stake holders like the Police, Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) etc.
Rule 92 (1) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Model Rules 2016 defines a missing child as “a child whose whereabouts are not known to the parents, legal guardian or any other person or institution legally entrusted with the custody of the child, whatever may be the circumstances or causes of disappearance, and shall be considered missing and in need of care and protection until located or his safety and well- being established.”
Any of the following persons can file a complaint when a child is missing
- A parent
- A legal guardian
- A relative
- Child Welfare Committee
- ChildLine 1098
- Public Servant
- Any person concerned with the safety and well-being of the child
- Any person who has knowledge about the incident
The complaint can be either filed with the police or the emergency helpline number of the police or the child line (1098). Once it is reported to the police, the details could be entered to the centralized portal along with a photograph of the missing child.
What is the role of the Police?
The model SOP clearly defines the role of the police in handling cases of missing children. Police is supposed to do the following
- File an FIR as a case of trafficking or abduction as soon as the complaint of missing child is received.
- Once the FIR is filed, the Child Welfare Police Officer has to be informed and a copy of the FIR has to be forwarded to the Special Juvenile Police Unit for immediate action for tracing the child.
- The police should also collect the most recent photograph of the child and copies have to be sent to district missing persons unit, missing persons squad, National Crime Records Bureau/Media etc.
- A designated ‘Form –M’ has to be filled in the centralized portal. This form has a lot of details that could help in tracing the missing child. All these details have to be filled by the police.
- The missing persons’ information form also has to be filled and sent to various authorities.
- The copy of the FIR has to be sent to the legal services authority along with the addresses of the parents & legal guardian.
- Wide publicity has to be given in print & electronic media, social media, local cable network etc. along with the picture and description of the missing child.
- Publicity via posters etc. can also be made at prominent places like bus stations, railway stations, air ports etc.
- They also have to scan the recordings of the CCTV cameras installed in the vicinity of the area from where the child was reported to be missing.
- They have to enquire at places like construction sites, unused buildings, hospitals and clinics, child line services and other local outreach workers, railway police etc.
- The police should also assess the threat perception to the child or the parents and take adequate measures for their protection.
Risk assessment is also the job of the Police
The police also have to fill in a risk assessment form (as per a format) after taking into consideration various parameters of the missing child. The risk assessment is in order to help the police understand
- The urgency of investigation
- Areas of inquiry
- Types of specialist knowledge that might be needed
- The supervision that may be required
- Agencies who may be first alerted
If the missing child is not traced within 4 months, the investigation has to be transferred to the anti-human trafficking unit of the police.
What after a child is found?
The model SOP also details the process to be followed when a child is found by the Police. When a missing child is found, he/she has to be produced before the Child Welfare Committee or the Juvenile Justice Board or the Children’s court. Various scenarios are defined in the SOP. A recovery form also has to be filled by the police.