25 February, 2015
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Dharmendra Singh from Ghaziabad attended a United Nations seminar on human trafficking representing India in Djibouti (a country in the African continent) in 2015. The seminar was organised at United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the only entity of UN focusing on criminal justice and combating human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. Why SSP Dharmendra Singh?
If you have heard of Operation Smile you would know why. Operation Smile is his brain child. It proved to be a success model for tracing and rescuing missing children. It all started on September 14, 2014. Ghaziabad Police conducted a rescue operation for child laborers and rescued 51 odd children from child labor. He launched Operation Smile to track and rescue missing children. Out of the total 228 children rescued during the operation, 80 children were from Ghaziabad.
Then SSP Dharmendra Singh realized that if one such raid can liberate so many children of other cities from Ghaziabad, why should it not help rescue missing children of Ghaziabad from other places?
1. Data collection: They gathered the data of complaints regarding missing children in Ghaziabad and 127 complaints were listed.
2. Updated photographs: They updated the photographs of the children and replaced poor quality photographs with high resolution photographs.
3. Prepared brochure: A complete brochure of missing children was published and circulated to all centers, NGOs, Commissions related to child rights through out the country so they can provide information about the child if they had or found the child.
4. Learnt lessons from history: The past record of rescue of children was analysed. This is what they found:
a. Most of the children missing from Ghaziabad were found from Delhi, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hardwar and Deahra Dun.
b. Most were found from railway stations, near temple and mosques and from NGOs
5. Dedicated manpower: 38 dedicated teams with more then 150 policemen were deputed solely for tracing and rescue of children.
6. Leveraged technology: These policemen used their smart phones, Facebook, Whats App, video chatting and all other popular information technology apps to speedily trace the child and to reunite him with his family.
7. Confirmed their find: They identified the child with their high resolution photographs. Clicked another photo with their smart phones and Whats App’ed it to their relatives for cross verification. In some cases they arranged a video chat between child and family with help of a cop at another end.
8. And the end result was they were able to trace 80 children missing from Ghaziabad and 147 children from other districts and even other states.
Some lessons to learn
This was a result beyond imagination of the police, but the question remains why a child goes missing?
The operation shows that a great number of missing children are staying near railway stations and another big chunk of missing children are found with NGOs, shelter houses and in other recognized organisations. Police can easily trace these children form public places and NGOs can send them back to their parents.
The operation wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It became virtually impossible at some point as there is no proper coordination among NGOs, police of different states and districts and the agencies related to child rights. Time and time again this point has been pointed out and stressed – that all Govt and Civil society agencies and individuals need to coordinate and synergise together – but still far from happening effectively.
The missing children which are staying with recognized NGOs or Children centers are suffering from different trauma. Once a Child is found by an NGO, usually the NGO should sooner or later reintegrate the child back to his/her house. But Operation Smile found more then 30% of its missing children from these centers. In most of the cases children from Ghaziabad and even from some other parts of NCR are staying in NGOs at Delhi for several years. An NGO in Mayur Vihar Phase 1 area of Delhi found it difficult to reunite a child with his family in Ghaziabad at distance of hardly 10 KMs!
There are so many Homes springing up who are more concerned about keeping children (often to attract foreign funds) without any proper coordination or statutory compliance with the state mechanism resulting in so many missing children who otherwise could have been reconciled to their families end up staying in institutions against their will. On the other hand the NGO’s also need to protect the child and determine their safety if sent back in conjunction with the Child Welfare Committees (CWC). Institutional care should be transitional in nature for children unless of course they are orphans or have unsafe home surroundings. Even in those cases, Kinship Care and Foster Care should be given priority. Reintegration of a child back to the family should be a priority of NGO run Homes.
With the directive from the Center, if other states also take this issue on priority then it will be easy to get these children back to their parents. In that case we will have more enriched national data bank and greater coordination among police forces and NGO’s. The harsh reality is this that National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and other agencies related to child rights even don't have complete data regarding missing children. Despite the Supreme Courts tough stand and Kailash Satyarthi getting the Nobel for peace, missing children are lesser priority for police.
Ghaziabad Police changed its priority for just one month and more then 200 families got a smile on their face, which was lost forever. Can other districts in all of our states replicate the same process as there is a successful precedent and the same technology available?