The rising trend of child abductions in India
Child abductions, which accounted for a small share of abductions earlier, now account for the bulk of all abductions in the country
Bengaluru: The lynching of scores of people across the country by mobs, which suspected them of being child-lifters, has centred attention on the issue of child abductions in India. While the mob lynchings may have been driven purely by rumours circulated through instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, the mob frenzy that claimed innocent lives may have partly risen from anxieties related to the growing incidence of child kidnapping and abduction in the country.
Official crime data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the reported rate of child abductions has risen at a far sharper pace than the overall crime rate in the country.
Over the last five years for which data is available—2012 to 2016—the rate of child abductions more than doubled to reach 119 per million child population (population under 18 years of age).
The overall rate of kidnapping also went up during this period, but the rate of child kidnapping grew at a faster pace.
The share of child kidnapping in overall kidnappings rose from 23% in 2006 to 40% in 2012, and then climbed further to 60% in 2016, NCRB data shows.
As an earlier Plain Facts column has pointed out, there are inconsistencies in the manner in which NCRB computes crime rates figures. Hence, for this analysis, the crime rate figures have been recomputed based on population projections using 2001 and 2011 census figures.
The rise in child abductions appears to be a countrywide phenomenon, with all states witnessing an increase in such crimes.
The states that fare the worst in terms of the rate of child abductions include Maharashtra, Tripura and Assam—which have witnessed lynchings related to child-lifting rumours—as well as Delhi and Goa.
Bihar, Assam, Karnataka and West Bengal saw the highest average annual increase in the rate of child kidnappings between 2006 and 2016. The rise in the reported rates of abduction may be partly driven by a rise in “technical” kidnappings, according to experts.
“Sometimes a child may leave with a friend and later come back. Or it may be a case of eloping. Children discontent with their parents may leave the home after having a fight,” said Y.P. Singh, a former IPS officer from Maharashtra. “Official statistics fail to distinguish between such technical abductions and serious cases.”
The NCRB data suggests that such cases of elopement may have contributed to the rise of reported abductions in the 2006-12 period, when the share of reported abductions of older children (those aged 15-18) increased while the share of reported abductions of younger children dropped.
In this period, the share of under-15 abductions declined three percentage points to 32% of all child abductions.
However, from 2012-16, the share of reported abductions of older children (those aged 16-18) dropped even as the share of reported abductions of younger children (those below 16 years of age) rose sharply to 53% of all child abductions in 2016. The under-15 abduction figures are not available separately for the latest years as the NCRB age-classification has changed in recent years.
The NCRB data also shows that convictions against abductors are hard to achieve. The rate of convictions (as a proportion of trials completed) in abduction cases has declined sharply over the past few years even as incidences of kidnapping have increased.
The combination of rising child abductions and falling convictions in such cases may partly be driving by the mob frenzy around this issue.
To be sure, low rates of conviction and high rates of pendency also apply to several other categories of crime, and arise from deep-rooted problems in India’s criminal justice system.
But the problems in the criminal justice system only serve to heighten the frenzy of the mob, which has little regard for the rule of law.