India No.2: Vanishing children

Official figures from India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) show that more than 240,000 children were reported missing between 2012 and 2017. While some run away, the majority are taken by human traffickers,

Victims are either kidnapped or lured away from their parents with promises of jobs and education. These children are trafficked to Delhi and other metropolitan cities, where they are placed as domestic help or child labour, or even prostitution.

But it can still be hard to get these children back to their families even after they are rescued. Years may have passed since they were kidnapped, so they often don’t remember details that could help reunite them, such as their address. The sheer number of records also makes it near impossible to search the database manually. It is possible to search what is known as the TrackChild records using names, physical characteristics and the date when the children went missing. But the size of the database and the patchiness of the records make this a daunting task.

However, photos of missing children are held on the TrackChild database, and these photos are now being shared with the Delhi police, who procured commercial facial recognition software and are now creating a system that will allow officers to upload photos of rescued children to see if they have been reported as missing. Subject to feasibility the ministry will integrate facial recognition software directly into the TrackChild portal to allow records to be automatically matched. Trying to connect them using parameters like height or age takes a lot of time, but with facial recognition it’s instant. Over the course of four days, the software compared photos of around 65,000 missing children against roughly 40,000 living in care homes. It matched 2930, who hopefully will be returned to their parents.

That so many children go missing and that all this worthy effort has to go into finding them tells a story about Indian society. On the other hand, at least modern technology is being used by the (very smart) Indian techies to find the children. One up to modern technology.

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