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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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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