By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, June 29: A total of 3,407 children went missing in the first 11 months of this fiscal year 2020/21, according to the complaints registered with the Children Search Coordination Centre hotline number 104.
Of them, 1,922 children were found and reunited with their families. However, 1,485 children, nearly 44 per cent, are still missing. In the fiscal year 2019/20, around 19 per cent of the children went; in 2018/19, 26 per cent children were not found and in 2017/18, that number was as high as 43 per cent.
The Act Relating to Children, 2018, defines children as persons who have not completed the age of 18 years.
The National Child Rights Council (NCRC), under the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen, is the main government agency responsible for following up on cases of missing children in collaboration with Nepal Police. They also operate the 104 hotline jointly with the police from Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu.
According to Milan Raj Dharel, executive director of NCRC, the main reason such significant numbers of missing children remain unaccounted for is the lack of reach of the Child Rights Council. “We do not yet have a comprehensive child searching mechanism at the provincial and local levels. Everything has to be managed from the centre,” he said, speaking at a press interaction organised at the NCRC office in Pulchowk, Lalitpur on Monday.
In addition to the coordination centre at Bhrikutimandap, NCRC has provincial centres in Morang for Province 1, Janakpur for Province 2 and Rupandehi of Lumbini Province. “We hope to establish coordination centres in other provinces in the coming fiscal year, which, we expect will help in the search and rescue of children,” Dharel said.
Nepal’s porous southern border is another major challenge, especially because NCRC has no formal structure or process to repatriate children who cross into India. There is no direct channel of contact between the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights of India and the Child Rights Council of Nepal and all coordination must pass through multiple layers of bureaucracy and even through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informed Dharel. “Time is of the essence when looking for missing cases. So, we cannot really afford to wait for our message to go through the official channels.”
“In urgent cases, we approach the concerned unit of the Indian police on a personal basis, request them to help us look for the children and, when found, bring them to the Nepali border for us to take charge of them,” Dharel explained how the Council was working in absence of a clearly defined mode of communication with the Indian authorities.
There are other reasons for the high number of unfound children too. Many times, the parents do not bother to inform us or the police if they find their ward on their own. There are also cases of repeated complaints where many individuals or parties call for the search of the same missing child. This also inflates the missing percentage by a few points.
“But even when accounting for this, we still have 20 to 30 per cent of children genuinely missing,” Dharel said, sharing this chilling opinion, “If we do not strengthen our tracking and searching structures at the local level and make international coordination easier, some of these children may never be found.”