It was just another day in Siliguri, West Bengal. 6-year-old Disha* stepped out of her house to go to school. Her parents had already trained her to reach school on her own, which was very close to her home. But on that fateful day, her tiny feet did not make it to the school gates. Disha vanished in the morning wave of the city's hustle and bustle.
"I remember that day clearly. The school informed me that Disha hadn’t reached. A state of panic gripped me. Where could she have gone I thought to myself? I took my cycle and rode out in a haste trying to trace her footsteps within the locality. She was nowhere to be found," says Dharmender*, Disha’s father.
Relaying varied scenarios in his head, Dharmender was desperately looking for his daughter along with his relatives and local community member, Arjun.
"I was worried about her safety and as time went by, the hope of ever finding her faded away. For a mother it is the worst possible feeling," says Kamla Devi*, Disha’s mother.
While their search for missing Disha spilt over other communities, they were introduced to Sandeep, a Child Protection Unit (CPU) member from the colony. Sandeep called the child line number and informed them about Disha. He advised Dharmender and others to take the help of mobile announcement platforms to spread the word. Sandeep posted Disha's photo on his Facebook wall, appealing people to urgently join the quest for finding Disha.
A police constable doing his rounds in that area stumbled upon Sandeep’s Facebook post on his phone. Later the constable happened to catch a glimpse of a child matching the same description as in the photo. She was with a man. When the constable approached the two, the man left the girl and ran. After a gruelling 13 hours ordeal, the missing child Disha was finally traced and brought to the police station.
"It was the most exciting moment to see my daughter. I took her in my arms, she was crying and looking at her my eyes started tearing up. She was safe and finally with me. After finishing all the formalities, when we got her back, it was around 11pm", Dharmender recalls.
There are millions of children caught in the web of trafficking. According to official reports, one child goes missing in India every eight minutes. More worryingly, around 60% of those missing are girls and 44% of all missing children have remained untraceable. West Bengal had the highest number of missing children with more than 12,000 missing in 2011.
World Vision India utilizes a community-based approach where we establish local vigilance committees and child protection units (CPUs). This is to help reduce the vulnerability of children and protect their rights.
These CPUs consist of community-based organization members, youth members, women of the self-help group and active members of our children’s club.
The aim is to strengthen social protection, monitoring and reporting mechanisms to reduce incidences of child labour and trafficking. Now the CPU is able to trace and bring back trafficked children and enroll child labourers into school.
World Vision has started 11 Child Protection Units in Siliguri. 146 community members are part of the various CPUs.
*Names changed to protect identity
Sources: Census 2011, National Crime Records Bureau, Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14 and 2011 report 'The situation of children in India' - Profile by UNICEF