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Ray Of Hope For Missing Children

An Indore-based NGO keeps hope alive for those whose child has gone missing. Shweta Lightwalla reports

What happens to thousands of children who go missing in India every year is anybody’s guess. Unfortunately, there is little awareness as yet about the processes for locating missing children. Most of the cases are not even registered with the police. The search for the missing is usually unaffordable. Some spend their life’s savings; many give up because of the high costs. Here’s a website which holds out hope.

On 14 November 2000, Anuj Bhargava, a systems engineer, and his MBA wife Nidhi Bhargava, set up a non-political, non-profit-making NGO, National Centre for Missing Children (NCMC). They stumbled upon an American website carrying a photograph of a missing boy with a question: Have you ever seen me? This advertisement really touched them. The couple made enquiries and found that there was no portal for missing children in India. They initiated contacts with families of missing children in India, and found that “Going missing was fate worse than death. Death has finality. We decided to keep their hopes alive. It would give them some emotional satisfaction.” The NGO runs a website, www.missingindiankids.com, the first of its kind in India, dedicated for parents, guardians and law-enforcement agencies to find missing, lost and kidnapped children, free of cost. It is an alternative and unconventional method for tracing missing children without interfering with the legal system.

The website classifies missing children into three categories--kidnapped, lost and run-away. Of these, the number of run-aways alone is believed to be one million every year - an indication of the huge numbers of missing children in the country.

Bhargava admits that collecting data on missing children from all over India is not easy. However, the site is user-friendly in tracking a missing child. The country is divided into five zones: north, east, west, central and south, where you can log on directly and report all details of the missing child - photograph, identification marks, age, height, complexion, clothes last worn. Currently, details of over 500 missing children are posted on the site. The site also contains a poster, which can be easily printed on a standard A4 paper. Parents who wish to register a missing child can download a free form, while volunteers can merely take printouts of the poster and display them at public places. The site also has guidelines for parents and schools for safeguarding children against likely abduction and instructions to children on how to protect themselves. One section on the site even tells you the procedures to be followed in case of emergencies.

The online form for reporting the missing children is also flashed to different police stations in India. Besides, the Bhargavas are trying to build a network of netizens (http://groups.google.com/group/kidsmissing) to take printouts of posters from the portal and paste them on public notice boards.

Funding is a constraint for the NGO, although they are registered for tax exemption under Sec.80G. Most of it comprises self funding or from friends. For over seven years, the NGO has been managed with these meagre resources. The Bhargavas are also carrying out their mission with volunteers, many of whom merely come in for work certificates. The government had no policy for missing children, until the Nithari case exploded. But Bhargava still hopes help will come his way and wishes the media would come forward to lend a hand. Magazines like New Woman, Meri Saheli, Nutan Kahania and Sachchi Kahania have been publishing advertisements of missing children under the banner of NCMC, free of cost. A little government help has come his way since, but corporate sponsors appear to be shying away.

A dull room on the fifth floor of a commercial complex in Indore, with only three employees, NCMC holds out hope for distraught parents. It can go a long way in searching for children whose parents often chase false leads, dream of miracles, and return disappointed to their empty lives.

NATIONAL CENTRE FOR MISSING CHILDREN
502 Chetak Centre,
12/2 RNT Marg,
Indore - 452 001,
Phone: (0731) 2519279
e-mail: [email protected]

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