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State accused of failing missing children

Supreme Court cites lack of concern over thousands missing

Swati Deb, New Delhi

February 6, 2013

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The Supreme Court of India has criticized the federal and state governments for what it called a lack of concern over tens of thousands of missing children across the country.

Following a petition from child welfare group Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA, Save Childhood Movement), Chief Justice Atamas Kabir said on Tuesday that the government has a last opportunity to present its side when the case will be taken up on February 15.

Federal and state government departments have been accused of failing to act, despite a previous court notice, while only two out of five states which were asked to represent themselves on Tuesday showed up.

Officials from Goa and Orissa were present while those from Arunchal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were absent.

“Nobody seems to be concerned about the missing children. That is the irony,” a court spokesman said.

Quoting statistics from the National Crime Research Bureau, BBA told the court that 117,480 children went missing in India between 2008 and 2010 and that more than 41,500 had not been found.

Many end up in the sex trade or trapped in child labor, according to rights groups.

“The genesis of the problem lies in the fact that the term ‘missing children’ has not been defined in the rule book, and therefore the cases are not being handled properly,” said BBA Chairman Kailash Satyarthi.

Current Indian law only refers to abduction and kidnapping, he added.

A Labor Ministry official, who declined to be named, responded by saying that the number of child workers in India has come down in recent years, from 12 million in 2001 to nine million by 2005.

Official estimates put the total at about five million by early 2010.

The Labor Ministry is also amending the law to give it “more teeth,” said the official, with new legislation set to prohibit children below 14 years old from employment in certain jobs including those in car workshops, mining and domestic work.

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