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31 Jul, 2023 14:25

'Shocking' number of missing women and girls in India revealed

The government's decision to publish the data comes amid national outrage over violence against women in Manipur
'Shocking' number of missing women and girls in India revealed

India’s Home Ministry informed the parliament last week that over 1 million adult women and more than 250,000 underage girls went missing across the country between 2019 and 2021, PTI news agency reported. The data was compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau. 

The central and western Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, respectively, topped the list for the most number of missing women, while the eastern state of West Bengal registered the most missing girls during the period. 

Among India’s eight Union Territories, Delhi recorded the highest number of missing girls and women. Over 61,000 women and nearly 23,000 girls went missing between 2019 and 2021 in the nation’s capital.  

The figures come as a shocking revelation at a time when the nation is being rocked by the news coming out of Manipur, a remote state in India’s northeast, where crimes against women have become a visible part of the ongoing ethnic conflict.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decried a “horrendous” incident in which two women were paraded naked and molested in Manipur, a video of which only became public months after the event took place.  Commenting on the footage that shocked the nation, the Supreme Court said it was “deeply disturbed” and that using women as instruments for perpetrating violence was “simply unacceptable in a constitutional democracy.” 

While prominent women activists and the National Commission for Women – a statutory body under the government – have yet to comment on the data provided to the parliament, Shikha Goel, head of Women Safety with police in the south Indian state of Telangana, alleged that there were some flaws in the data. In Telangana, she said, according to the local news outlet Sakshi, 87% of the missing women and girls were tracked down and returned to their families, while 99% of the cases didn’t fall under the ‘serious crime’ category, but were instead related to family problems, jilted love affairs, and financial troubles.  

In the statement on missing women last week, the Home Ministry pointed out that a number of initiatives had been introduced by the government to help ensure the safety of women across the country.

These include the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, widely known as ‘Nirbhaya Act’, passed after the brutal gang-rape of a female student in Delhi in December 2012, and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018, which was enacted to further strengthen punishments of perpetrators, particularly in cases of child rape. For such cases, the law proscribes a minimum sentence of twenty years imprisonment but can be extended to life in prison or even death for the rape of girls below the age of 12.  

In 2018, the government also launched the National Database on Sexual Offenders to expedite the probing and tracking of sexual offenders across the country by law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, starting in 2019, a single emergency helpline with an internationally recognized number ‘112’ was rolled out across the country for immediate assistance to anyone in distress.