Thousands of children in India go missing every year yet few are traced and given adequate support to rebuild their lives, partly due to the under-utilization of funds by states and a slow judicial system, government officials and judges said Tuesday.
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that 60,000 children went missing in India in 2011, out of which 22,000 remain untraced, according to government officials.
Activists say many are trafficked and sold into bonded labor as servants in middle-class homes or in small shops and hotels where they serve, clean and cook. Girls often end up in brothels where they are repeatedly raped and abused.
Speaking at an event organized by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi on the rehabilitation of missing and trafficked children, government officials and senior judges admitted more efforts were needed to protect and support children.
"Slow trials and low rate of convictions are an institutional failure. The lack of child-friendly courts might be a reason behind low conviction rate," said Supreme Court Judge Madan Bhimrao Lokur.
Leena Nair, secretary at the ministry of women and child development, told participants - which included police officers, judges, lawyers, government officials and activists - that many states were not using budgets allocated for children.
"States are not utilizing the funds, policies and resources available for the purpose of children," said Nair.
"We'll ensure strengthening of government institutional mechanisms and schemes so that effective measures are taken toward rehabilitation and repatriation of children."
South Asia, with India at its center, is the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world after East Asia, according to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.
There are no accurate figures on the number of people being trafficked within South Asia, but activists say thousands of mostly women and children are trafficked to India annually from its poorer neighbors Nepal and Bangladesh.
Child rights activists focusing on the recovery of victims say repatriation is often one of their biggest challenges and can, in some cases, take years.
There is a lack of effective international coordination between states to verify victims' identities and trace their places of origin — often remote, impoverished regions with poor telecommunications and infrastructure.
"I urge the judiciary to create strong guidelines and directions to establish and ensure - child-friendly court procedures, speedy punishment to offenders and time-bound rehabilitation," Satyarthi said at the start of two-day workshop on Monday.
"Let's ACT together. That is bring Accountability, Coordination between agencies and optimal use of Technology in to our rehabilitation measures."