Kolkata: An increasing number of children are going missing from the popular tourist destination, Darjeeling hills.
According to the latest report prepared by Child In Need Institute (CINI), "Darjeeling showed the steepest rise of missing children (according to the data available with them for 8 districts of the state for 2010, 2011 and 2012)".
In 2012, Darjeeling district had 924 cases of missing children as compared to 430 in 2010. More than half of the missing children were girls, said the report which sourced its data from the District Crime Records Bureau (DCRB).
Rajib K Haldar, additional director of CINI, said due to the geographical location of Darjeeling, children are more vulnerable to cross-border trafficking via Nepal.
"Cross-border districts are used as transit points by the traffickers and children mostly from the remote villages remain the target," he said.
A majority of the missing children were from poor families and found themselves trafficked for various reasons - as labour in factories, farms or homes, sold for commercial sexual exploitation, marriage or forced into beggary.
The report says West Bengal has become a source point for child trafficking within the country. It also serves as transit for cross-border trafficking as it shares porous borders with Nepal and Bangladesh.
FIRs were lodged only in 4 per cent of such cases in Darjeeling, the study found although early this year, the Supreme Court had made it mandatory for police stations across the country to compulsorily register missing complaints of any minor and appoint a special police officer to handle complaints of juveniles.
At least 154 such cases of missing children from Darjeeling were reported to Childline India Foundation, the nodal agency involved in operationalising the 1098 helpline for children in distress.
National Crime Records Bureau records show that more than 19,000 children were missing in West Bengal during 2012.
"These figures are just tip of the iceberg as countless number of cases go unreported," the CINI report said.
The study finds poverty and lack of education as among the key factors which drives trafficking.
Early marriage is another reason.
"Marriage is used as a significant ploy for child trafficking. Often young girls are duped into romantic associations," it said.
The report studies the incidence of missing children, related vulnerability factors and consequences in the 10 vulnerable districts in West Bengal sharing international borders with Bangladesh and Nepal.
Other vulnerable districts include south and north 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Howrah and Birbhum.
Along with Plan International, CINI has initiated the Missing Child Alert Project which acts as a platform to control cross-border trafficking of children in Bangladesh, Nepal and India.