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‘A missing child is a non-cognizable offence’

Sidrah Roghay

Karachi: Alishba, aged six, went missing from her house in Dastageer on December 10. The family registered an FIR but investigations did not begin. Four days later, the girl’s tortured and raped body was discovered in some bushes off University Road.

A day after Alishba’s case was reported by the media, another case of a 12-year-old boy surfaced. The boy had been sodomised and his body dumped.

Newspapers were full of accounts of angry family members of Alishba, who alleged that the investigations were delayed even after the FIR had been registered.

According to Muhammad Ali, president of Roshni Helpline, an NGO which works specifically on cases of missing children, a missing child “is a non-cognizable offence”.

For a non-cognizable offence, the police cannot arrest an accused or begin investigations without the consent of a magistrate.

“If a parent goes to the police with a complaint of a missing child, it will be noted down in the Roznamcha or a daily diary, where other lost items like NICs are put in. A simple announcement is made over the wireless and that is the end of it.”

According to the data collected by the organisation from 100 police stations of the city in 2010, more than 3,000 cases of missing children were reported in Roznamchas.

Most children return, “but those who do not are probably being used for criminal activities and therefore prompt investigation is needed”, Ali says.

He maintains that the first three to 72 hours are crucial to finding important clues. “The child’s mobility needs to be curtailed. If the police went into the neighbourhood as soon as the missing child was reported important clues could have been gathered, and crime would have been prevented,” he says as he specifically talks about Alishba’s case.

“Why wait for something to happen and then begin investigation?” he says.

Zameer Ahmed Abbasi, SHO, Darakhshan Police Station, disagrees. “Parents can drop in any time, with a verbal or written complain and either a photo or a description of their child, and an FIR will be registered under Section 363 or 365, which deals with kidnapping cases.”

“A missing child is a cognizable offence; it should not be placed in a Roznamcha. Those who do it are wrong,” he maintains.

Shahida Jamil, a lawyer who is famous for her expertise in the field of human rights, believes that a lot depends on how the parents pursue their case, “Did they hint to the police that the child could have been kidnapped, or state the last known sight of the child?”

But Muhammad Ali believes that the police attitude is off-putting for parents. From his experience of dealing with parents of missing children, and recovering them, he says, “It takes time. You have to take the parents into confidence, assure them that you are here to help, then they open up and tell important details, personal feuds which may have resulted in the disappearance and so on. Simply telling them to leave after an entry in the Roznamcha is not right.”

Source: The News