Safe? Who?

Scrolling down our social media timelines, we often come across posts about missing children. The virtualization of the community of people that help us through difficult times in reality, has enabled the distressed to find a refuge from their worries online. A lot of times, this method of spreading the word proves fruitful and the missing child is found. But are the families of all such missing people remotely fortunate enough to have access to the internet? Is every missing person found? Like the Oscar nominated movie, Lion, how many lost children ever get rescued. Do they ever get to meet their families again?

What happens to the children who are abducted from their rural homes and sold for brutalities against their innocence. On another note, dare we ask, what happens when people start justifying that rape is consensual and the victim is to be blamed for getting raped?

Here’s what happens: As slavery in the country prevails and child labour & rape culture have been normalized, over 2.5 lac children have disappeared in India alone between 2012 and 2017. A little math reveals, that it’s equivalent to 5 children vanishing every hour. More than 63 million women in India are statistically missing and 21 million girls are unwanted. It is no news to the world that the sex ratio in India is vastly skewed. In fact, it has worsened as incomes have increased and development is not proving to be an antidote for the culture of ‘son preference’ either, leading to crime, human trafficking and shockingly, more rapes. These numbers are merely the ones that have been documented and the concept of safety is entirely a myth.

At a time when our newspaper headlines read about the rape and murder of 6 & 8-month old babies, we are still blind enough to see who really is culpable. The provocative dressing sense of a child surely isn’t the reason why they are abducted or raped. Where are we going wrong? Inculcating sexism right at a very young age by teaching our children that ‘boys don’t cry’, could really be the reason why masculinity has taken a wrong definition.

Why is it that any gender feels empowered enough to do as they please, even to other human beings without any regard to their existence or consent? What gives somebody the right to buy and sell another human being? Where really is this entitlement stemming from. It is always easy for parents, especially in a patriarchal country like ours, to restrict their children from going out at odd hours or dressing in a particular manner. Cultivating respect and empathy in them, however, surely is the difficult road they rarely wish to go down. If we’re taught gender neutrality right at the crossroads of choosing between blue or pink pyjama sets or in fact, blue or pink anything, if we let boys play with dolls and girls play with superhero figurines without putting the pressure of societal norms on them at the fragile age of 5, if we teach them to never touch anybody without their consent and set an example for them by our own actions, if we learn and teach to take no as an answer, if we stop sexualizing the female body & fostering taboos around everything women do, the world could possibly be a better place. Possibly.

Due to urbanisation and an increased access to the outside world, more people are willing to become progressive and receptive to new ideas contrasting to how generations of their ancestors have lived. Though installing panic buttons on mobile phones might lead to greater safety of women and children who can afford one, it still won’t solve the bigger issue. Flipping the very mindset of millions of humans isn’t possible overnight. It is a long and painful process which may take years. Of course, laws need to be made stricter with harsher punishments and penalties. In the meanwhile, it is inevitable to make sure that the future generations are not being broken by any ancient social taboos.

However, we can’t just keep waiting for the mindset revolution to take over to stop the women and children from being just a missing statistic. While under-registration and under-reporting remain a major problem can we develop a way to curb these. Destitution is another cause as looking for a missing person requires manpower, time and resources, all lacking in the system. Only 40% of the missing children cases get a FIR registration. In association with the authorities, an easy mechanism of reporting can be introduced by outsourcing the filing procedure to trusted bodies just like the passport procedure and leaving only the actual task of finding the culprit up to the policemen.

A system for proper database management at the time of birth of children also needs to be in place. Not having a social identity leads to difficulty in tracing. If registering for a birth certificate and getting a social identity number (like Aadhar) along with it is made less cumbersome, a lot more missing people could be found. Wearables (Belts, rings, bracelets etc.) with a panic alarm or alert button of some sort are already in existence or under development. More of these need to be rolled out and at affordable prices so that if we can’t keep the perpetrators away, we can at least alert the help nearby.

A social initiative that could prove fruitful is teaching women to drive commercially. This could create a lot of employment and empower the women to make their own living instead of depending upon anybody else. This would reduce the number women who go missing due to domestic abuse because they are financially dependent on their abuser and can’t escape. This would also mean that cab hailing companies could employ more female drivers and ensure the safety of women passengers at late hours avoiding unfortunate events that occur in the dark of night.

Children can be taught how to deal with difficult situations with strangers through gamification. Instead of scheduling a separate session to tell your kids to not talk to strangers, a game that tells them so needs to be introduced. It is bound to have a deeper impact if they ‘lose a life’ when they take a candy from a suspicious person. This would however only work in case of children older than 5/6 years of age and with the means to afford the technology. Sex Ed among pre-teens also needs to conducted properly because misinformation often leads to experimentation that might be unsafe. Skipping the reproduction chapter from Biology from the fear of questions from children needs to end. This is definitely an example of the unnecessary sexualization of perfectly natural things. In fact, a standardized kit of some sort can be manufactured and sold to schools that contains models and placards to explain things to them in a better manner.

Infringement of privacy with tracking apps is surely not a long-term vision and cannot be concluded as the permanent solution to avoid incidences of abduction or sexual abuse. However, education and value building are long-term solutions that can only be implemented when the current situation is stalled using the short-term tactics. Therefore, more and more inventions on these lines need to come up to ensure that malicious predators go extinct and the hell on earth is exterminated.