Dawn News

In this picture taken on Sept 12, 2012, Pinki and Dinesh Kumar Singh pose with a photograph of their missing child Shivam Singh at their residence in New Delhi. — Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: Thirteen-year-old Shivam Singh promised his mother he would be back to do his homework as he ran to get some sweets. He never returned, becoming one of the 50,000 children who go missing every year in India.

“My son left his books open, put on his sandals, combed his hair and ran out,” Pinky Singh recalls tearfully of the fateful evening in July when Shivam popped out of the house. “It was the last time I saw him.”

Three months on, perched on the edge of her son's bed and surrounded by his toys and sports trophies, Pinky Singh is terrified by what may have befallen him.

“I just pray that he is not forced into drugs or begging. He is a very innocent and studious boy.”

According to recent crime data, 14 children go missing in New Delhi every day, at least six of whom are victims of human trafficking.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) says around 1.2 million children are victims of child trafficking across the world every year.

India's mega cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are a particular target for criminal gangs that police say traffic children in much the same way they sell drugs.

In August this year, the country's top court ordered the federal and state governments to provide data on 50,000 missing children after a petition blamed them for failing to solve the trafficking of children by organised gangs.

Police officials said they have rescued hundreds of children from factories and busted large-scale child prostitution rackets but they accept they are sometimes overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge.

The country's federal detectives admitted last year that there were 815 gangs comprising of more than 5,000 members involved in the kidnapping of children for prostitution and begging across India.

“Very often we find kidnapped children are forced to work as cheap labour in factories, shops and homes. They get exploited as sex slaves or are pushed into the child porn industry,” Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.

“These gangs target urban slum children because they can easily track their movement, lure them with food and kidnap them.

“Some poor parents are scared to even report the case to the police and most do not have photographs of their children to submit as an evidence,” said Bhagat.

In 2006, body parts of 17 children stuffed in plastic bags were found by the police in Nithari, a suburb near New Delhi, a horrifying case that shocked the nation and triggered a raging debate on the safety of children in India.

Twelve-year-old Sharath Kumar knows better than most of the dangers that lurk.

The son of a small shopkeeper in New Delhi, Sharath was nine when he became a kidnap target while waiting to be picked up from school by his mother.

“The old man covered my face with a black cloth, he dragged me and threatened that he would kill me if I raised an alarm,” said Kumar.

The abduction however was foiled when several youths heard Kumar crying out for help. They managed to rescue the youngster and reunite him with his mother.

“My son was just plain lucky. He was in a state of shock and cried for hours when he came home,” said Kumar's mother, S. Laxmi.

The incident taught Laxmi a crucial lesson.

“When my son was kidnapped, the police demanded his latest photograph and I had nothing to offer. I kicked myself and cursed my husband for our carelessness,” she told AFP.

She now gets portrait-size photographs taken of her two boys every six months.

Investigators say the absence of photographic evidence makes it impossible for them to trace the child.

“Most kidnappers target children aged between six to 13. We cannot trace the child without photographs,” said V. Renganathan, a senior police officer in New Delhi.

Renganathan is the founder of an initiative called Pehchaan (Recognition) in which policemen take pictures of children in slum areas for their records and also provide copies to the youngsters' parents.

“The idea is to safeguard vulnerable children belonging to the poorer sections, millions of families in this country are too poor to even think about taking pictures,” said Renganathan.

For Pinky Singh, who provided pictures of her missing son to the police, the wait for news just goes on.

“Every morning I wake up only to wait for my son's return and I fall asleep waiting for him. Waiting is the only way of life for me.”

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page


Comments (23) Closed

David M
Oct 05, 2012 02:40pm
Oct 05, 2012 07:19pm
I pray they get their son back.
Mustafa Razavi
Oct 05, 2012 04:09pm
Siddarth; " Wonder why such articles don
Mohdudul Huq
Oct 05, 2012 03:20pm
Government should come forward to find out the missing children. It is ethical and moral duties of all civilized nations.
Maryam Naseer
Oct 05, 2012 09:21am
I hope and pray to God that your son will return home soon without any harm done to him and curse to those culprits who play with the lives of others.
Oct 05, 2012 09:16am
I wish a secure future for our young generation irrespective of religion and boundries ,,,May Almighty keeps all mothers in peace .We need to educate masses for keeping their eyes open .
Oct 05, 2012 09:02am
Slum dog Millionaire is a film which tells the dark side of the real face of booming economy of the world.
Syed W. Ali
Oct 05, 2012 01:39pm
Probably for the same reason that the misery of the locals in Pakistan rarely surfaces in papers here. Human suffering transcends all boundaries and it should be a priority for the authorities.
Oct 06, 2012 01:54pm
It is the best case of organised crime taking place in our society.
Oct 05, 2012 10:35pm
One cannot feel the pain of such parents. Their eyes make one so sad that one wants to cry. May Allah reunite all families that are met with this tragedy. What has this world become for simple and innocent people.
Oct 05, 2012 11:22pm
Indian gov spends billions on military and to stop terrorist this money could be spend on so many other things. Same can be said about Pakistan too! Some day people will learn and care about important stuff.
Oct 05, 2012 01:11pm
I hope these parents get their son back.
Ghalib Khan
Oct 06, 2012 06:16pm
The people who kidnap these children are not human beings,, hope and pray all the children around the world remain safe.
Syed W. Ali
Oct 05, 2012 01:36pm
Alright! So Pakistan is not alone to have experienced these issues regularly in many parts of the country. This means we need to start with making calls to clean up our own house first. My heart goes out to this mother whose agony cannot possibly be described in words. I pray that all these children find their way back home.
Oct 05, 2012 10:26am
Wonder why such articles don't appear regularly in Indian press!
Faraz Paracha
Oct 05, 2012 10:43am
Such an horrifying fact but there seems to be no end to such brutality. Child trafficking is taking place throughout the world especially in the developing countries like the ones in South East Asia and South America for several different purposes but unfortunately there is no light at the end of the tunnel plus top officials are not bothered about it.
Oct 05, 2012 04:28pm
Very heart breaking as there is no value for the children of the poor people, no governments in the third world countries cares, nor their politicians, police, army etc.. These people do not know that the parents tears will not go into vain and it will destroy those people or the community in this life and hereafter who involves in this human traficking trade. May Allah show them the right path so they can become instrumental by helping parents to find there loved ones and to see that what type of inner satisfaction they will get. Which is millions time better then their current wealth and designation!
Oct 05, 2012 12:47pm
My prayers for you and thousands of mothers waiting for their children to return. May Allah unite all with safety and dignity,Ameen. My heart goes out for all of you.
Oct 05, 2012 06:54pm
"She now gets portrait-size photographs taken of her two boys every six months." one advantage of celebrating birthdays...
Sidda Indian Banda
Oct 05, 2012 05:27pm
These comments are strong proof of the possibility of a Pakistani heart can melt for an Indian tragedy . A growing feeling , a glimmer of hope to conquer the hunger for piece of land and religious isolation !!!!!
Oct 05, 2012 10:36pm
One can never feel the pain of such parents. Even looking into their sad eyes makes me cry. May Allah reunite all families who are facing this tragedy. What has the world become for such simple and honest people.
Oct 06, 2012 03:05am
@siddharth: The Indian press suppresses facts and hides ugly truth to develop a good wholesome prosperous image about India to attract foreign investment and business. The Pakistani press is easily 'bought'.It is financed by certain foreign 'agencies' to shame Pakistan and Islam. It dehumanizes them by digging up minute amounts of dirt and rare incidents from far corners and villages of Pakistan and wallows in this filth on front page...paid regular stipends and wins Oscars.
Oct 05, 2012 09:58pm
Please concentrate on right and wrong. evil and goodness , for time being just think as human only. This is big dielima for every country and parents