In June 2015, the ministry of women and child development (MWCD) announced the creation of a new web portal for citizens to exchange information on missing and found children. Launched under the umbrella of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Digital India” initiative, it was called Khoya-Paya, which translates to "lost and found." Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said the idea had come from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was “completely unique.”
However, Khoya-Paya is the not the first portal set up by the MWCD to aid the process of finding missing children. In 2006, work began to develop a portal that would allow the coordination of data on missing children across the police, state governments, child homes and volunteer organisations. The portal, called TrackChild, was first launched on a pilot basis in West Bengal. Its success there prompted the WCD minister at the time, Krishna Tirath, to “scale it up nationally” in late 2012, after nearly six years of conceptualisation, planning and training. Still, uptake was slow and in December 2014, letters went out from the centre to all states urging them to make sure that all police and other child-care agencies used TrackChild to enhance the system for finding missing children in India.
Launched close upon the heels of TrackChild, the timing of Khoya-Paya bewildered many child-advocates. Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, a co-founder of Haq, a child rights group that has been active against child trafficking since 2001, told me that while any effort by the government to reunite lost or missing children with their parents is welcome, she was skeptical of a new site being the right step when several portals already existed. Thomas Aquinas, national director of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Don Bosco National Forum for Young at Risk (DBNF-YaR), told me that he too wondered why the government needed to launch yet another website. In early August, the Supreme Court posed the same question to the MWCD as well.
The MWCD’s response was that Khoya-Paya was intended for citizens to use amongst themselves, and that it was meant to complement TrackChild. Indeed, anyone with a mobile phone number can register on Khoya-Paya. Once registered, a user can then create a missing or found child report directly viewable by every other user: the idea is that bereft parents looking for their children can get in touch with well-intentioned members of the public who report sighting children in need. Parents reporting a missing child can also provide their contact information so that they can be reached by others. What makes Khoya-Paya unique is this ability for the public to interact directly.
However, connecting public sightings to police databases is not a new idea. The reason the announcement of Khoya-Paya faced such scrutiny was partly because the functions it offered were present in TrackChild. “Why is it that before we fix something, and see why it hasn't worked, we move on to the next?,” Thukral asked. “Why not upgrade the existing site and make that Khoya-Paya?”