missing person

This article is written by Shristi Borthakur, of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA, where she discusses the procedure to report a missing person and the various laws and guidelines relating to filing a missing person report.  

The filing of a missing person’s report starts off with the same procedure and technicalities as that of any other offense/ information. The initial method of reporting a missing person may be by a phone call to the police station, by way of communicating on the 24-hour helpline number, or by going in person to the police station to complain. The most common apprehension that people harbor in this context, fueled by pop culture, is that there needs to be a mandatory waiting period for 24-hours or 48-hours before approaching the police to file the case. There is no such requirement, and a person can contact the police if he/ she has reasonable apprehension regarding the possibility of someone being missing, or serious concerns about their safety and do not possess any idea about their whereabouts. The police may, however, ask you to make another attempt to search that person at home or nearby, before filing a formal complaint. Otherwise, the police cannot refuse to file a complaint if the statements made appear to be genuine. Concerning the mode of complaint used, the police may duly file the complaint and begin with the necessary investigation process.

How to file a missing person report

Here it is necessary to understand the difference between FIR and a general police complaint. The reason behind a person missing may not always be of a criminal nature. An FIR is a serious registration related only to cognizable (criminal) offense, while other police complaints do not necessarily need to follow this norm. A police complaint thus can be both related to a cognizable or non-cognizable offense. As mentioned earlier, it is possible that a lost person may be so even on his/her own accord, while on the other hand there may be accidental or other criminal reasons, such as kidnapping or abduction, behind a lost person. Taking these factors into consideration, it is common to see that the police generally show a lack of interest in filing an FIR when a case of missing person is reported. Even though this discretion is well-grounded, there can be no denying that this leads to certain difficulties during later stages.

  • Order by Madras HC – It has been observed in a case wherein a body recovered was disposed of as unidentified, even though the father of the deceased had complained earlier about the person has gone missing. This proves to be an evident example where the discretion of the police may have possibly led to heinous consequences. In view of such cases, the courts have felt the need for the immediate registration of FIR when a missing person complaint has been made. In the case mentioned, the Madras High Court accordingly was of the opinion that police should file FIR in missing person cases immediately.
  • Later on, the Karnataka HC took this view a step ahead to go on to state that there needs to be a standard procedure for police to probe complaints of missing persons, and failure to adhere to the procedure should result in disciplinary action against the police officers concerned. This is a growing concern in the context of increasing instances of trafficking of women and children due to a lack of effective procedure to deal with them. It also emphasized on the need for incorporating information technology into the machinery.
  • This opinion has been manifested in different ways, wherein some states have tried to ease down on the need to register an FIR, but at the same time ensure that efforts are being taken to track down such people. For example, in the state of Jharkhand, to begin with, the process without the hassle of FIR, a departmental procedure was introduced by way of a form that was to be filled along with the details and photograph of the missing person.

What are the particulars to be followed in a missing person report?

In order to successfully file the complaint that will help locate the said missing person, it is important that certain particulars are stated to the police. The description and particulars that are given in the complaint go a long way in tracking down the missing person. Refer to the checklist to help identify and track a missing person.

What is the next step after a missing person report is filed?

Once the complaint has been registered, the police goes ahead with tracking down the missing person, taking reliance on the network of counterparts, which is a slow process. To ensure that the matter is taken up effectively, there is a secondary remedy that is available to the person filing a missing person complaint. This is commonly by way of RTI.

  • First, the person making the complaint may file another application, in addition to the complaint, in the concerned police station asking for further developments in the case.
  • Secondly, he may also file a formal RTI in this regard, as it will enable him to keep a check on the efforts being made to find the missing person, and also to exercise his right to information. Since the Police come under such category, application of RTI against it is a strong approach to ensure that the police are taking the matter into serious cognizance.

Use the link to help understand the scope of RTI and how to file one.

Thus, the procedure for filing a missing person’s complaint can be summed up in the following steps-

  1. If there is reasonable doubt regarding the safety of a certain individual whose whereabouts are unknown, you can make a call or go to the nearest police station to file the complaint.
  2. Give the necessary details of such missing person along with a recent photograph to facilitate the investigation. Fill the missing person form if the departmental procedure so asks for.
  3. As a secondary remedy, you can further as for relevant developments in the case by filing applications. You can also formally file an RTI in this regard.

Is there any separate provision for dealing with missing children?

The need for giving special importance to cases of missing children was felt in the light of the grave incidents of the Nithari Case, which brought about a deep concern regarding the manner in which children had gone missing from the Nithari Village, in NOIDA, UP. “It sparked off nationwide indignation on the abuse to which the victims were subjected and gross violations of their human rights. In order to put an end to the callous attitude and insecurity, which regard to the protection of children and also to prevent more lives from being lost in similar crimes, the National Human Rights constituted a Committee on February 12, 2007, to look into the issue of missing children in depth. The Committee was to examine the problem of missing children and bring this issue to the forefront as a National Priority. The Commission felt that missing children remains a neglected, low-priority intervention area for everyone other than those who have lost their children. The Committee was also assigned the task to evolve simple and practical guidelines so that the Commission can come up with appropriate recommendations.” The efforts of this Committee was, to begin with, deal with cases of missing children as a “priority issue” and an important issue while dealing with human rights. Based on the recommendation of this Committee, certain new procedures in the investigation of missing persons were suggested. The recommendations are as follows-

  • ‘Missing Children’ as Priority Issue
  • Missing persons squad/desk in police stations
  • Adherence to Supreme Court guidelines in Horilal vs. Commissioner of Police, Delhi & Ors.
  • Role of district administration
  • Mandatory reporting system
  • Involving Panchayati Raj institutions
  • Involving NGOs
  • National database and monitoring
  • Revival of State/Centre Crime Records Bureau
  • Helpline numbers
  • Outsourcing preliminary inquiry to NGOs
  • Cognizance of offense
  • Sensitization of stakeholders
  • Rescue of children in need of care and attention
  • I-card for children
  • Poverty alleviation measures
  • Role of State Commissions
  • Role of media
  • Attention to transit points of trafficking
  • Addressing the issue of missing children from across borders
  • Survey and research

Is there any guideline laid down on the filing of missing person report?

In the case of Horilal v. Commissioner of Police, Delhi, and Ors, the following guidelines were laid down for kidnapped minors, especially girls, which was binding on Investigating Officers in all states.

  • Publish photographs of the missing persons in the Newspaper, telecast them on television promptly, and in case not later than one week of the receipt of the complaint. But in case of a minor/major girl such photographs shall not be published without the written consent of the parents /guardians.
  • Make inquiries in the neighbourhood, the place of work/study of the missing girl from friends, colleagues, acquaintance, relatives etc. immediately. All the clues from the papers and belongings of the missing person should be promptly investigated equally.
  • To contact the Principal, Class teacher and Students at the missing person’s most recent school /educational institutions. If the missing girl or woman is employed somewhere, then to contact the most recent employer and her colleagues at the place of employment.
  • Conduct an inquiry into the whereabouts of the missing person from the extended family of relatives, neighbours, school teachers including school friends of the missing girl or woman.
  • Make necessary inquiries whether there have been past incidents or reports of violence in the family.

Thereafter the investigation officer/agency shall:

  • Diligently follow up to ensure that the records requested from the parents are obtained and examine them for clues.
  • Hospitals and Mortuaries to be searched immediately after receiving the complaint.
  • The reward for furnishing clues about missing person should be announced within a month of her disappearance.
  • The Investigation should be made by women police officers as far as possible.
  • The concerned police commissioner or the DIG/IG of the State Police would find out the feasibility of establishing a multitask force for locating minors, especially girls.

It also adds on to the duties of IO in metropolitan areas, to conduct immediate verification of red light areas, rescue any minor girl found therein, as per the procedure laid down in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.

General pattern of investigation followed in cases of missing person report

  • In the absence of any standard procedure established to lodge FIR in cases of missing persons, the fact of a missing person is considered to be non-cognizable offense. Therefore, only an entry is made in the General Station Diary (GD) and is followed by an inquiry.
  • At the field level, local police officials publicize the person to gather information, while the SHO forwards the information to the Superintendent of Police, or Deputy Commissioner of Police, and all other concerned persons.
  • Registration of information is done in the Missing Persons Bureau, then in the State Crime Records Bureau, and finally transferred to the Missing Persons Wing at the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in New Delhi, which operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • The NCRB, under the TALASH Information System, maintains a national level database of missing persons under different categories. The NCRB functions as a ‘Documentation Centre’ or at best a ‘Transfer Desk’ because the NCRB neither investigates nor does it monitor or facilitates the recovery of missing children as a proactive organization.

What are the other reforms/policies that have been taken up by the government?

Delhi Police Orders for Registration of all missing cases as FIR

The Court stated that since in most of the cases of missing children the parents cannot pursue the case, the court issued orders to the Delhi Police to promptly, without any delay register all complaints of missing children as FIRs.

  • The information with regard to missing children shall be immediately uploaded on Delhi Police’s web bases of Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNET) program. The Home Ministry is directed to issue appropriate directions to the neighboring States of Delhi to adopt web-based ZIPNET program with regard to missing children.
  • It shall be mandatory for Delhi Police to forward both by e-mail and by post a copy of each FIR registered with regard to missing children to Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA) along with addresses and contact phone numbers of parents of the missing children.
  • DLSA will, in turn, constitute a team comprising a lawyer and a social worker to follow up the case with the Delhi Police. The said team will not only provide all possible legal aid to the parents and families of the missing children but shall also act as an interface between the parents of the missing children and the Delhi Police. DLSA will maintain a record of all cases of missing children.
  • Both DLSA and the Delhi Police shall ensure that the Supreme Court interim directions/guidelines pertaining to missing/kidnapped children passed Horilal vs. Commissioner of Police, Delhi and in the case of Lalita Kumari vs. State of U.P. & Ors. are strictly complied with.
  • Whenever a missing child is traced or he/she comes back on his/her own, the Investigating Officer will examine all relevant angles such as involvement of organized gangs, application of provisions of Bonded Labour Act and such other relevant Acts.
  • Whenever the involvement of an organized gang is found, it shall be the responsibility of the Investigating Officer to refer the matter to the Crime Branch of Delhi Police or the Special Cell constituted in the CBI.

Standard Operating Procedure laid down in Bachpan Bachao Andolan Case

Another recent development regarding cases of missing children can be understood through the judgment in the case of Bachpan Bachao Andolan Vs. Union of India & Ors, which has been developed by the Ministry of Women and Children.

  • The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that was implemented in compliance with this order aimed to expand the mode of filing a complaint. Apart from other modes of communication, it laid down that complaint can also be filed with the help of an SMS as well. Once this is done, preliminary verification of the caller will be done, and the information will be added to the general diary and FIR.
  • Another new element in this is the stipulation of risk. The SHO in such cases will have to evaluate the urgency of the case and eventually determine the areas of inquiry to proceed with. This included the mandate for filling up a “Risk Assessment Form.”
  • The third feature is incorporating an organized crime approach. The procedure here states that the investigation is transferred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in the district if the child is not found within four months.

Read the judgment of the said case to understand better.

Advisory on Missing Children (Ministry of Home Affairs)

  • Implementation of the guidelines of Honourable Supreme Court in Horilal vs Commissioner of Police Delhi and court orders issued in Sampurna Behrua case. These instructions need to be compiled and monitoring ensured.
  • Implementation and Monitoring of NHRC guidelines on Missing Children.
  • An officer of the rank of DIG should be declared Nodal Officer in each State.
  • Supervision of investigation of cases by senior police officials of the rank of Addl. SP /Dy. SP.
  • Heinous offenses related to organized crime should be transferred to the State CID.
  • Convergence between District Missing Children Unit and Missing Person squad needs to ensure.
  • All cases of trafficking should be treated as an organized crime and real-time data and profile of the gang members need to be maintained.
  • Police officials need to be sensitized and trained on Procedural laws, Investigation techniques and data collection and compilation.
  • AHTU should be involved in the Missing persons work at the district level.
  • SP should review all cases of missing children in the Monthly District Review.
  • In International trafficking, investigators can network with Interpol for the search of the missing child.
  • All missing cases should be uploaded at the District level and data disseminated and the same needs to be updated.
  • At the Police Station level, SHO should ensure that the data on missing children is shared with DCRB and SCRB.
  • Integration of Childline in the search and recovery of missing children needs to be ensured.
  • Police should be trained to take preventive steps.
  • Involvement of Community/Panchayats/Resident Welfare Association needs to be ensured for prevention and protection measures.
  • Community awareness of missing children needs to be ensured at District level. School level sensitization should also be ensured.
  • Appointment of Nodal NGOs at the state level needs to be ensured. Wherever possible NGOs partnership should be evolved for counseling and awareness raising activities.
  • The protocols and SOPs developed by MHA-UNODC project including protocols on interstate transfer of rescued victims should be effectively utilized.

Apart from a police complaint, what other measures can you take to track a missing person?

Filing a police complaint is the formal step you take when someone goes missing, and wait for the police to do their jobs. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing else you can do to track such missing person.

Advertisements in Newspapers

Print media continues to be an immensely popular source of information for people around the world. It is also accessible by most. You can publish an advertisement in a local newspaper about such person mentioning his particulars and identification marks, along with his/her photograph.

Use of social media, radio

Apart from newspapers, social media platforms and radio can also be useful to find such person. Draft an effective message that will help reach people at large, and in return can help your case.

Issue of public notice

A public notice is issued by a government agency or legislative body for certain proceeding. When a missing person complaint is filed, the police also issue a public notice in the newspaper, and other platforms depending on the gravity of the case. Also, another option is available to you, on a larger platform. When a loved one goes missing, you can enter his/ her information on a tracking platform known as missingpeopleinfo.com. If someone comes across such person anywhere, they can post their information on the said website, and action will be taken accordingly.


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  1. Is it legal to go missing in India ? if yes, then what we can do if we are found and don’t want to go back?