HC asks Delhi Police to begin inquiry of missing children immediately, not wait for 24 hours

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New Delhi, Jul 11 (PTI) The Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi Police to ensure that inquiry starts immediately after a case of a missing child is reported and there is no waiting period of 24 hours.

The high court said the reason behind waiting for 24 hours after children go missing appeared to be a presumption or speculation that they usually go with friends or relatives and return to their homes. However, the 24-hour delay may result in the child being taken outside the jurisdiction of the court or some untoward incident taking place, it said.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has also formulated an SOP, titled 'Standard Operating Procedure For Cases of Missing Children', which states that upon receiving a complaint of a missing child, an FIR shall be registered as trafficking or abduction, it said.

"The SOP makes it adequately clear that action has to be taken immediately, promptly, forthwith and at once. There is no scope for any speculation or conjecture that the child may return home in 24 hours and hence the police can wait.

"In fact, the first 24-hour period is the crucial period or critical period, when steps for tracing of the missing person or child could lead to positive outcome," a bench of justices Prathiba M Singh and Amit Sharma said.

The high court asked the Commissioner of Delhi Police to look into the matter and give directions to all police stations to ensure that the waiting period of 24 hours is wholly unnecessary and whenever a complaint is received, the inquiry or investigation should immediately commence.

"In light of the SOPs as also the observations made herein, all the police stations shall ensure that there shall be no waiting period for 24 hours in the case of missing children to start inquiry/ investigation," the bench said.

The high court was hearing a plea by the father of a minor girl seeking to trace the child who had gone missing on February 19. The man approached the police the same day, however, he was asked to come again the next day if the girl did not return.

When the girl did not return, her father again went to the police on February 20 and a 'missing person report' was registered instead of an FIR for the offence of kidnapping, the petition said.

It added that since no proper investigation was conducted by the police, the petitioner has approached the court to trace his missing minor daughter. The man has raised suspicion over a youth for allegedly kidnapping his daughter.

The high court said the chronology of facts revealed a "disturbing situation" and added that in this case, the initial waiting for 24 hours by the police or investigating agencies before registering or filing a complaint appeared to have caused delay in tracing the girl.

"In the case of complaints relating to children going missing, irrespective of whether the child is a minor or a major; waiting for the 24-hour period could result in crucial time being wasted. Therefore, it is extremely important that immediate investigation and inquiries be conducted by the police/ investigating agencies without waiting for 24 hours under the presumption that the person/ child may return home," it said.

Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Sanjay Lao informed the court about a revised standing order of police on "duties of police regarding missing persons and unidentified dead bodies".

He said according to the standing order, so far as missing persons, especially children and minor girls irrespective of age, are concerned, a case shall be mandatorily registered even if a suspicion is voiced by the complainant or arises otherwise.

Lao further submitted that considering the seriousness of the matter, the case be transferred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (Crime Branch).

The court then transferred the case to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (Crime Branch) of the Delhi Police which will conduct immediate and diligent investigation under the supervision of a senior officer not below the rank of an ACP and file a status report within a week. PTI SKV SKV KSS KSS