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India

Indian Police Find 300 Kidnapped Children After Being Chided For Inaction

A child goes missing in India every eight minutes. After India's Supreme Court censured police for failing to act, authorities launched an operation to bring children home. But it's still too little, too late.

Nearly half of India's missing children remain untraced.
Nearly half of India's missing children remain untraced.
Bismillah Geelani

NEW DELHI — After India's Supreme Court and the public chided police for not acting aggressively enough in kidnapping cases, New Delhi launched a special effort to bring home children who had been missing, some of them for years, ultimately reuniting 300 of them with their families, police say.

Assistant Police Commissioner Runvijay Singh says that until the so-called Operation Smile was launched several months ago, it was common for people to complain that police are insensitive in cases of exploited children.

"Operation Smile is our effort to bring that sensitivity into our work," he says. "Now we have set up a dedicated team that registers cases immediately and begins investigating them. The team consists of people who feel strongly about the issue and really want to do something about it."

Among the 300 children who were found and returned to their family is Mohit.

"I left home with a friend, but we got separated at the train station," he recalls. "I reached Jaipur, and there a woman took me with her. She had several other children with her, and they told me to work with them. I was told to collect used plastic bottles, and when I refused, they beat me up. They would often abuse me and deny me food. We used to sleep at the railway platform."

Mohit was there for five years until the police found him and returned him to his mother in New Delhi. He says he will never leave his home again, and his mother Devi is overjoyed to see him again.

"We had lost all hope because the police didn't seem to take much interest in finding him, but out of the blue the police brought him back last month," she says. "It has infused new life into all of us. It was like having all our prayers answered all at once."

Child trafficking a major problem

Authorities say one child goes missing every eight minutes in India, and nearly half of them are never found.

Abhinav, who was just 18 months old, went missing last year while playing outside his home in suburban Delhi. His mother Priyanka, 27, remains inconsolable.

"A group of street performers came to our area, and my son wanted to watch them," she says. "It was cold, and I went back inside to get more clothes for him. When I returned a few minutes later, he was gone. My husband and I searched everywhere, but we couldn't find him."

Priyanka and her husband turned to the police for help. "They told us to come back later," she recalls. "When we came back, they said, "Why did you come back?" My husband begged them to show some mercy and help us find him."

Only after constant pressure did the police register a formal complaint.

Chabbulal, 40, who runs a grocery in a Delhi slum, sent his 10-year-old son Rahul to a nearby market to buy medicine for his sick mother. Three years later, Chabbulal is still waiting for his son to return.

"I can't sleep," Chabbulal says. "Every night I put his photograph on my heart and wait for him. Sometimes I feel like committing suicide."

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, nearly 100,000 children under the age of 18 go missing in India every year. Sandhya Bajaj from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights says the number could be much higher.

"Most of these children are from the poor families, and poor children are not considered equal human beings," she explains.

Activists believe many fall prey to human traffickers who exploit them as laborers, beggars and prostitutes. Others are killed or maimed by organ traders.

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), says that 47% of missing children are never found. "Among those, 60% are girls, and it's a very serious issue because they are mostly kidnapped and quickly taken to destinations where they can't reach anyone and nobody can reach them," she says.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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