This article is written by Vanya Verma, from Alliance University, Bengaluru. This article covers various aspects after a complaint about a missing person is filed with the police in India and what are the initiatives taken by the Indian government to make it easier to find a missing person.
Every year about 100,000 children go missing in India. Over 7 million individuals die by suicide each year around the world. Teenage stress, anxiety, and drug use are the most prominent factors in teen suicides and runaways. Kidnappings and murders involving large sums of money are also the results of jealousy and malevolent rivalries inside families and businesses. When a person goes missing for more than 24 hours, a missing person investigation is filed. Another prevalent reason for a person’s disappearance is kidnapping.
In this article, we will see what steps need to be taken after a complaint about a missing person is filed and the steps taken by the government to fasten the process.
Initiatives taken by the government to track missing children
Under its government-supported Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), the Ministry of Women and Child Development has built up websites‘ TrackChild‘ and ‘Khoya-Paya‘ to track missing and found children. This portal allows for the search of missing children and for matching of missing children with the recovered/found children, based on predefined characteristics such as name, age, parents information, and the date of disappearance.
On TrackChild, there are two modules: one for the police to upload information about a missing kid after filing an FIR, and the other for Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs), Child Care Institutions (CCIs), or entering information about a recovered/found child. During 2015-16, a new and more user-friendly version 2.0 TrackChild, was released with improved connectivity and new capabilities such as a mobile application.
On the 2nd of June 2015, the Ministry of Women and Child Development unveiled Khoya-Paya, a platform where residents may report missing children and sightings of their whereabouts in real-time. It is also possible to report children who have been discovered. By using an Indian mobile number, any citizen can register on KhoyaPaya. KhoyaPaya’s goals include quick reporting of missing and discovered children, identifying missing children through site-based engagement, residents being encouraged to report sightings of abandoned, lost, or suspicious youngsters, and citizens being able to post information on found children.
The Ministry of Home Affairs released an advisory on the web portal, which was launched on February 20, 2014. This web portal serves as a one-stop-shop for information on human trafficking issues, as well as a critical IT tool for sharing information among Ministries, States/UTs, Civil Society Organizations, and other stakeholders to effectively implement anti-human trafficking measures, particularly those related to the criminal aspect, and to promote best practises in this area.
According to the Seventh Schedule to the Indian Constitution, ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order are state subjects. As such, the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations bear primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, registration, investigation, and prosecution of all crimes committed within their jurisdiction.
Guidelines for the investigation of kidnapping/missing/abduction cases: in Delhi
- The SHO/Inspector must personally attend to the missing/kidnapping/abduction victim, and the victim should not be left at the mercy of the Duty Officer. All complaints of kidnapping, missing persons, or abduction cases should be brought to the attention of the SHO as soon as possible.
- A case of kidnapping must be filed immediately in the case of a missing child under the age of 16 years old, male or female.
- If there is any suspicion of kidnapping or abduction, a missing report will be filed in Daily Diary and a case of kidnapping/abduction will be filed.
- The report filed in the daily notebook should provide a complete description of the missing person, including the clothing he or she was wearing before being reported missing, as well as the circumstances surrounding his or her absence. The report should also include the date and time of the disappearance.
- A copy of the daily diary entry/FIR must be provided to the Crime Branch’s missing person squad as soon as possible and must be handed against a proper receipt.
- Send a copy of the FIR/DD Entry to Delhi State Legal Services Authority, Room No. 1, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi or Shaheed Bhagat Singh Place, Gole Market, New Delhi with the IO’s, Police Station’s, and complainant’s phone numbers.
- The complainant should also be notified about the services given by the Delhi Legal Services Authority and the helpline numbers for the DLSA and the Delhi Police’s missing person squad.
- All ACP/SHOs will ensure that a Missing Person Desk is established in the Police Station to address complaints of missing persons. This desk’s Registering Officer will be the Inspector/Investigation, and its members will be nominated Juvenile Welfare Officers. On receipt of a complaint, the Inspector/Investigation Officer will ensure that urgent action is taken following updated Standing Order No. 252/09, and that thorough records of efforts made by them and IOs to locate missing persons are kept. The operation of this desk should be frequently monitored/reviewed by the SHO and ACPs, and the involved officers should get prompt instructions and assistance.
- More copies of the same may be created if a photo of the missing person is available, and a copy forwarded to the missing person squad with the daily diary entry/FIR (if procured afterwards, can be sent later).
- CRO must also receive photos of the missing individual for dissemination in the daily bulletin and the interstate gazette (which is issued by the CRO).
- The missing individual must be reported to the Police Control Room (PCR), along with a full description of the person, so that the information can be sent on to all of the PCR vans.
- The Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNET) will be updated instantly with entries of missing/kidnapped people.
- A brief message detailing the missing person’s full description, including clothing, should be forwarded to the All India Radio and Television Centre for broadcast. Before being transmitted to TV/AIR/Press, forms for this purpose must be filled out correctly and neatly.
- Wireless messages with a complete description of the missing person, including their clothing, should be transmitted to all SHOs in the capital. Similarly, all DCSPs and Superintendents of Police in India must receive wireless messages.
- Coloured hue and dry notifications (in the form of a small handbill) and posters with a complete description of the missing person, including clothing and a photograph, must be distributed. These should be printed and visibly posted in all key locations, such as railway stations, trains, bus stops, buses, and hotels. Any reward offered for information leading to the missing person’s recovery must be stated in the Hue and Cry notice. Sufficient copies of the Hue and Cry notices and posters should be provided to every SHO/in-charge PPs, Anti Kidnapping Section of the Crime Branch in the capital for posting in prominent locations, such as the police station’s notice board.
- Information should be forwarded to the CI Cell/CBI J Block Hutments, Dalhousie Road, New Delhi, along with a photograph of the kidnapped and missing individual and a Hue and Cry notice.
- Information and images (10” x 12”) of the kidnapped / missing individual should be sent to Doordarshan Kendra, Akashwani Bhawan, Sansad Marg, New Delhi.
- Requests for declaration of prize to the person offering vital clues about the missing/kidnapped person are also made to PHQ through the concerned DCP.
- The motive, such as ransom or animosity, must be determined with the cooperation of the missing child’s parents or guardians, and an inquiry established appropriately.
- In the event of a ransom demand, clever traps should be set, and no rookie officer should be allowed to handle the situation. Traps should be set up in cooperation with senior officers, especially the SHO/ACP.
- In circumstances where parents suspect someone of being involved in the kidnapping, that individual must be appropriately investigated. Such suspicions should not be dismissed out of hand as unfounded.
- The area where the missing/kidnapped person was last seen should be investigated.
- In the instance of a suspected kidnapping of a minor, it is preferable to assemble an investigating team led by an experienced Inspector. The team should investigate all lines of inquiry and give the matter their undivided attention.
- When a student goes missing, the school authorities must be contacted to find out how the student was doing in school, if he or she was regular in attendance or used to play truant on occasion, and so on. It’s also worth checking to see whether any of his peers are missing. This will prove that they have run away together and will also provide crucial information.
- The IO must treat the parents/guardians of the kidnapped/missing individual (especially a minor) with respect and express complete sympathy and distress. They should never be mistreated or misbehaved with, as this will cause them to lose faith in the local police and turn to other authorities, causing a ruckus. Compassion and understanding go a long way toward helping them heal their scars.
- The parents (guardians) of a missing individual, particularly a juvenile, should never be requested to provide transportation or suffer any costs, as this will invariably result in unwarranted criticism and complaints against the police.
- If a missing person is found, he will be interrogated extensively to determine whether he was kidnapped or abducted. If this is the case, the kidnapper will be sought. The information must also be provided to the missing person squad, who will not only end the search but also update their database of missing people.
- In the event of missing minors, the rescue houses for boys and girls must be visited, as they are occasionally taken there after the missing person squad finds them wandering aimlessly.
- Even if the parents allege kidnapping and attempt to write a record in the daily diary, police officials have been noted to be hesitant about documenting a case of kidnapping. If the parents accuse or suspect kidnapping, it is usually preferable to record a case of kidnapping immediately rather than drafting a report in the daily journal. There have been cases where parents suspected foul play but the police failed to file a report, and the kidnapped person was later discovered slain. Then there’s the claim that if the police had filed a report and started an inquiry, the kidnapped person would have been found alive. There is no response to this charge, putting the entire department in a humiliating position.
- A report should be immediately lodged in the daily diary and the kid should be immediately transferred to the hospital for medical evaluation together with the required documentation if a missing minor is brought to the police station by a member of the public. A copy of the daily journal entry will also be given to the missing person squad by a police officer. There have been cases when the minor was not taken into custody and the public servant was told to return the next day, only to lose the child again, or where the minor was accepted but not properly cared for at the PS, only to go astray after leaving the police station.
- The involvement of any gang of child-lifters in the kidnapping of small children, particularly those under the age of 7/8 years, can not be ruled out, as some such gangs take minor children and use them for begging after handicapping them. Members of such gangs should be tracked down and interrogated if they have previously been apprehended in incidents of kidnappings of minor children. The Crime Branch can provide information about such gangs (PHQ).
Advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs
On 10.05.2013, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, heard a Writ Petition (Civil) no. 75 of 2012, directed the following:
- If a police station receives a complaint about any missing children, the complaint should be reduced to a First Information Report, and appropriate procedures should be taken to ensure that a follow-up investigation is conducted as soon as possible.
- There shall be an initial presumption of either abduction or trafficking in the instance of any missing kid reported until the inquiry proves otherwise.
- When a police officer receives a report about a missing child, he or she must investigate it under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Continue with the investigation into the complaint even in the case of complaints made otherwise concerning a child that may fall within the scope of Section 155 CrPC, after making an entry in the book to be kept for Section 155 CrPC and after referring the information to the Magistrate concerned.
- Upon receipt of the information recorded under Section 155 CrPC, the Magistrate shall continue to take appropriate action under sub-section (2) in the meantime, particularly if the complaint concerns a child, particularly a girl child.
- According to Section 63 of the Juvenile Act, each police station should have at least one officer who is professionally trained and recognised as a Juvenile Welfare Officer. In shifts, the Special Juvenile Officer on duty at the police station should be present.
- Paralegal volunteers, who have been recruited by the Legal Services Authorities, should be used such that at least one paralegal volunteer is present at the police station at all times to monitor how complaints about missing children and other crimes against children are handled.
- The State Legal Services Authorities should also establish a network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose services might be used at all levels for the aim of locating and reuniting missing children with their families, which should be the primary goal when a missing child is found.
- Every found/recovered child must be photographed by the police as soon as possible for advertising purposes and to notify the child’s relatives/guardians that the child has been found/recovered.
- Photographs of the discovered child should be made available on the website, in newspapers, and even on television so that the parents of the missing child may track down their child and reclaim him or her from police custody.
- When trafficking, child labour, abduction, exploitation, and other issues are revealed during the investigation or after the recovery of the child, when the information suggests the commission of such offences, a Standard Operating Procedure must be established to handle the cases of missing children and to invoke appropriate legal provisions.
- To monitor the case of a missing youngster, the local police should develop a protocol with the High Courts as well as the State Legal Services Authorities.
- If a missing child is not found within four months following the filing of the First Information Report, the case may be sent to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in each state, which will conduct a more thorough investigation into the case.
- The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit will submit quarterly status reports to the Legal Services Authorities to keep them informed.
- In circumstances where no First Information Reports have been filed and the kid is still missing, an F.I.R. should be filed within a month of the date of this Order’s notification, and the investigation can then proceed.
- Once a child has been found, the police must conduct a further inquiry to see whether there was any involvement of human trafficking in the procedure by which the child went missing, and if such links are discovered throughout the investigation, the police must take necessary action.
- The state authorities must make arrangements for suitable Shelter Homes for missing children who have been found but have nowhere to go. Such Shelter Homes or After-care Homes will need to be established by the state government in question, and the state government will need to give finances to manage them as well as suitable infrastructure. At the very least, three months should pass before such homes are built. Any private home that is run to shelter children is not eligible to receive a child unless it has been referred by the Child Welfare Committee and meets all of the requirements of the Juvenile Justice Act, including registration.
Cops get new guidelines for missing person cases
The state administration established new instructions to deal with such instances, just days after the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled against state police in a habeas corpus case.
The government issued an order directing police to follow the standard operating procedure (SOP) (Unified Procedure) for taking appropriate action in cases of missing persons, as well as guidelines for police to follow the Supreme Court judgments and the ministry of home affairs advisory on minor children.
All information about missing people must be entered in the General Diary, according to the requirements. All missing individuals (adult males, females, and children) reports must be filed with the police, which may be a Zero First Information Report under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973. The officer-in-charge of the police station must endorse cases to the sub-Inspector for inquiry. The search will continue until the missing person is found. Photographs of the missing people should be printed in newspapers and broadcast on television. The images of the missing will be widely distributed.
Photographs of a minor girl or lady who has gone missing are not to be published. Make inquiries in the neighbourhood, as well as in the place of employment and education. Inquire about any previous incidents of domestic violence in the family. In the instance of a missing kid, the investigating officer must investigate all relevant aspects whenever the child is traced or returns on his or her own.
The duty of the investigative officer in missing people cases was also clarified by the state government. According to the instructions, the officer must go to the location where the person was reported missing, speak with the relatives of the missing person, and take their statement.
Tracking a missing person made easier
The availability of information online has made it easier for authorities to track down missing people and identify unexplained bodies. The police are now taking measures to enable the general public to gain access to the same content, allowing the average individual to trace missing people online.
Previously, the respective police station would send photographs of missing persons or unidentified bodies to newspapers for publication to identify or locate the individuals. It was also manually transmitted to surrounding regions, where the images were cross-checked against a list of missing persons or unidentified dead. However, this was a lengthy and time-consuming operation. Pictures and information on missing people and unexplained remains are now posted online by police stations as soon as they receive a complaint.
According to a senior police officer in the city, the new approach has proved extremely beneficial to the agency during the last five years. The local authorities are attempting to connect the identities of the unidentified dead here with the identities of those who have gone missing in other places using data from the Internet. This has also aided in the detection of such incidents.
According to the police, the current attempt to publicise the websites was made to assist the public in gaining direct access to information available to the officers. While the police have made a few websites available for the public to look for missing people or unidentified remains, the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) system website of the police provides more possibilities. Gender, age group, height range, the date the individual went missing, complexion, other visible identification markings, and the colour of the missing person’s last seen clothing are some of the search capabilities on the website.
NCRB launches a portal for searching a missing person
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) inaugurated these services, allowing citizens to search for missing persons, check police records of any car, and generate a no-objection certificate (NOC) for it from a nationwide database.
According to an official announcement, the citizen-centric services have been deployed on the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) platform and can be accessed via an online portal or a link in the existing ‘ Digital Police Portal‘.
“Until now, such services have been supplied through state citizen portals, and this is the first time they have been launched centrally,” the statement stated.
“Citizens will now be able to use the two citizen services of ‘Missing Person Search’ and ‘Generate Vehicle NOC’ online,” NCRB Director Ram Phal Pawar stated.
“Citizens can use the national database of retrieved unidentified found persons or unidentified corpses from their houses to look for missing relatives. This will greatly benefit relatives of missing persons and save them time searching for information, as all such details, including images, are available in CCTNS and will now be accessible to residents via this portal at their leisure” he stated.
Further, he said, “Citizens can enter search criteria in the portal, and the system will search it from the available national database across the country and present the result immediately with a photograph and other details”.
The NCRB director explained that the ‘Generate Car NOC’ service allows citizens to check the status of a vehicle before purchasing it secondhand, determining whether it is suspicious or clean based on police records.
According to the release, Pawar stated, “This search may be done against a national database based on the vehicle’s details, and one can create and download the applicable NOC, which is required by the RTO before the transfer of ownership”.
The NCRB, which is part of the Union Home Ministry, has also formed an agreement with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a US-based NGO, to gather information on child pornography, exploitation, and other issues.
The NCMEC, which was created by the US Congress, provides a centralised reporting system via which internet service providers around the world or intermediaries such as Facebook, YouTube, and others can report anyone who spread child pornography photos.
The NCRB’s Cyber Tipline monitoring system was also inaugurated by IB Director Arvind Kumar. Cyber Tipline is a centralised reporting mechanism for the online exploitation of children, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“The nexus of crime and technology is more visible today than it has ever been. Cybercrime has become much more complex as a result of digital technology and the internet” Kumar stated his opinion.
It is thus necessary for law enforcement organisations to be agile, proficient in the use of cutting-edge technology, and employ new approaches to trace, investigate, and combat cybercrime.
He stated that so far, roughly 25,000 Cyber Tipline Reports have been received and shared with states and union territories, with 15 of them being of extremely high priority. According to information provided by states and UTs, 57 FIRs have already been filed, with investigations underway for the remaining cyber tipline reports, he noted.
Procedure needed to look into complaints of a missing person: Karnataka High Court
The High Court of Karnataka stated that police should follow a uniform method when investigating allegations of missing persons and that failure to follow the system should result in disciplinary action against the personnel involved.
During the hearing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by the High Court’s Legal Services Committee and Justice and Care, a non-profit organisation, which complained of an increase in child and women trafficking due to a lack of effective implementation of laws, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice Ram Mohan Reddy made these observations.
The Bench further urged that good use of information technology resources be used in dealing with such issues.
Earlier, the petitioner’s lawyer, B.V. Vidyulatha, claimed that the police declined to record a first information report (FIR) based on concerns about missing people in numerous cases.
Which is the best way to find out a missing person; self, police or missing person investigation agency
A missing person inquiry necessitates a high level of attention to detail as well as analytical abilities. There are three possibilities for locating the missing person:
- You could go out on your own and look for that person. This is not recommended because a layperson does not have access to the same resources as the police and a missing person investigation organisation.
- You go to the police station and report it. This is the right formal procedure to follow as soon as a missing person is discovered. However, in rare circumstances, this approach of locating a missing individual can take several days or even months. By that time, the missing individual may have gotten too far away from you or may have died.
- A missing person investigation agency can solve a missing person case in a fraction of the time it would take the police or you. It is the best option to locate a missing person.
Hiring a missing person investigator is the best and safest way to locate a missing individual. If a person has been kidnapped, the kidnappers keep track of police movements and threaten to kill the victim if the victim’s family attempts to involve the authorities in the case. Families frequently feel helpless and lost in their search for their loved one.
Need for reforms in law enforcement
So, how do we go about dealing with this massive problem? The first and most critical task is to raise awareness of the growing problem of missing children within our police forces. Furthermore, immediate reforms are required to assist law enforcement in dealing with these situations in a more efficient manner.
An FIR is not filed when a child goes missing since it is not a cognizable offence. There is no compulsion on the local police department to open a full-scale investigation without an FIR. At most, a note is made in the “station journal,” and a drawing or description of the youngster is sent to other police stations in the jurisdiction via a wireless transmission.
This is a seriously defective method because a kidnapper’s initial move is to flee the district or city. Furthermore, with the police force already overworked owing to a staffing shortfall, discovering missing children is a low priority for officers.
The “missing person’s registry” is updated with information regarding missing children, however, it is useless because it is only accessible to police officers in the district.
The police system becomes mainly useless after a missing child leaves the jurisdiction of their community. Due to the extensive bureaucratic procedures needed, there is no coordination between police forces across the district and state lines.
As a result, once a kidnapper is out of the jurisdiction of the local police, it’s very easy for them to flee with a trafficked child. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that, as previously stated, police would not lodge a complaint till a child has been missing for more than 24 hours.
The necessity of the hour is to educate police officers on the need to prioritise the search for missing children in their regular tasks. When compared to other crimes, this one is more awful since a missing child is exceedingly vulnerable, and it is our system’s primary responsibility to protect them and reunite them with their families.
Greater coordination between police agencies across state lines is essential for this to happen. A special task force for missing children might make a significant contribution to inter-state cooperation and intelligence sharing.
The digitization of missing children’s records is another critical feature. Complaints concerning missing children or their information are frequently filed in a bulky paper file that collects dust in an office. The chances of finding missing children increase dramatically if these records are digitised and made available to police departments across the country. Currently, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) keeps track of crimes, but it’s far from full because it relies on state police agencies giving information voluntarily.
At the district HQ level, there should also be specific missing children’s officers whose role it is to lead such investigations and guarantee that different police forces cooperate. This is such a serious problem that our law enforcement agencies will have to go on a war footing if they hope to solve it in the near future.
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