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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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Missing Children a black hole in law enforcement

  - Sankar Sen, IPS
Senior Fellow Institute of Social Sciences
Former Director General National Human Rights Commission
Former Director National Police Academy


It is reported in the Press that in order to trace out missing minor girls, Delhi Police has put up posters with missing girls photos outside the brothels of Delhis red-light areas. Research studies have shown that a large number of missing minor girls ultimately land up in brothels. A research study sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission and conducted by the Institute of Social Sciences revealed that in any given year, on an average, 44,000 children are found missing and of them about 11,000 remain untraced. This, however, is a somewhat tentative estimate because data collected from police records are inadequate and incorrect. Sometime missing children are children killed and buried in neighbours backyards (as in Nethari serial killings), forced as child beggars by begging rackets or trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. NHRCs action research on trafficking has shown through several case studies linkage between trafficking and persons reported missing

It is a crowing pity that police seldom properly investigate cases of missing children. Normally, investigation of a crime commences with the registration of a First Information Report (F.I.R.) in a Police Station. But in the case of a missing person, or child, no formal F.I.R. is registered and only a missing person entry is made in the Police Station diary. Station House Officer forwards the information to all concerned including the Superintendent of Police who in turn forwards it to the Chief of Police. Local Police publicize the details of the missing persons in the media by including the available identification details and photographs. After this, there are no serious follow-up efforts to trace the missing children.

The fact of the matter is that missing person is not recognized as a crime in any special or substantive laws of the country. Hence, search and recovery of missing persons does not figure in the priority list of law enforcement agencies. It is handled in a very casual and ad hoc manner. Even after getting information of the missing persons, there is a great time lag in disseminating the same information to other Police Stations, districts and states. At Police Headquarters, the information regarding the missing persons is lodged with the Missing Persons Bureau, a wing of the State C.I.D. They in turn forward the information to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in Delhi which operates under the control of MHA. NCRB acts as a documentation centre of crimes in the country and has no role to play in the investigation, monitoring or recovery of missing persons. NCRB remains unaware of the children who are traced and those who remain untraced. Further there is no analysis of the problems of missing children in the Annual Crime in India Report published by NCRB.

Different states in India follow different procedures to deal with the cases of missing persons. For example, in Mumbai, the information is relayed through a police notice along with other information pertaining to vehicles stolen, vehicles recovered, appeal for the identification of dead bodies, etc. Most of the efforts to track down missing persons stop at this stage.

Apart from NCRP, there are some regional websites like the Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNET) and a few state police websites which provide information on missing persons including missing children. But the information provided largely remains incomplete. Again awareness about these data bases amongst the police personnel is low and so it does not draw adequate attention in the investigation and tracing of missing children.

The Supreme Court in the case of Horilal v/s Commissioner of Police, Delhi & Others, (Writ Petition no. 66/1996), issued a number of useful instructions regarding the steps to be taken in tracing of missing and kidnapped girls and children. These guidelines include publishing the photographs of missing children, enquiries about the missing children in educational institutions, issuing hue and cry notices and setting up a multi-task force under the State C.I.D. for locating missing girls and children.

In USA private non-profit organizations like National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) provide free service to the families of kidnapped and sexually exploited children. It also serves as a clearing house for information about missing and exploited children. In India there are NGOs like Children India, National Centre for Missing Children (NCMC) who has hosted websites displaying photos of missing children for whom the police are conducting enquiries. Unfortunately, there is no systematic co-operation and coordination between the police and the NGOs.

Indeed efforts to trace out missing persons remain ad hoc and slipshod. In consequence, a large number of missing women and children remain untraced. Resources and time at the disposal of the police are also totally inadequate to deal comprehensively with the growing dimensions of the problem. Further, the police have displayed utter lack of sensitivity to tackle the problem and shown no concern for the plight of the victims.

There is an urgent need for a national data base and a monitoring centre. The NCRB could set up a National Tracing Centre that could encompass locating and tracing of missing children at grass roots level. The data base has to be updated on a regular basis and information gathered is to be documented.

It may be mentioned in this connection that Delhi Police have introduced computerization of missing persons data in 2006. The matching of missing persons with unidentified dead bodies is being done with the help of computers. It is gratifying to note that before computerization of data tracing of missing persons was about 25% which has now jumped to 73%.

Now under the orders of Delhi High Court a Cell relating to missing persons and children has been set up in the Central Bureau of Investigation and entrusted with the task of coordinating efforts all over the country for tracing missing children and persons. However, the cell due to resource constraints is not functioning very effectively. It is absolutely necessary to strengthen the cell in order to enhance its capacity to coordinate and investigate criminal cases relating to missing children.

A Committee was set up by the National Human Rights Commission to examine in depth the issue of missing children under the chairmanship of one of its members Shri P.C. Sharma. It gave an interesting and out-of-box-suggestion that preliminary enquiries into the cases of missing persons could be outsourced by the police to responsible NGOs who will undertake the task. Such NGOs can be notified by the State governments and MHA may issue appropriate guidelines to the NGOs in this regard. This will help in developing synergy between the law enforcement agencies and the NGOs and institutionalize a constructive partnership. It also recommended that the state governments must issue appropriate directions to the law enforcement agencies to set a time limit of 15 days from the date of reporting of a missing child. If a minor child is not traced back within 15 days, the presumption of some malafide may be drawn and an FIR to be drawn up for proper registration of such cases.

Indeed missing children constitutes a veritable black hole in law enforcement in the country. Unfortunately, the police have not yet acknowledged the gravity of the problem and steps to trace out and recover missing children remains a matter of low priority. In order to tackle the problem seriously there is need for strong political commitment, mobilization of resources and coordination between the police and institutions of civil society.

(This article was published in the Statesman, New Delhi edition, dated 26 August, 2012}

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