Imagine a family going home for the holidays. The jovial trio -- father, mother and a five-year-old boy -- reach Sayedabad Bus Terminal on time.
The little boy is hungry. So they decide to grab something to eat before boarding a north-bound bus. The moment they start walking towards a roadside eatery in the area, they are faced with heavy and chaotic flow of vehicles, haphazard parking-stoppage, street vendors, beggars jostling for alms and people running around with luggage.
This pandemonium is just another day at Sayedabad terminal -- one of the major gateways to Dhaka -- where hundreds of buses from all over the country either pick up or drop off passengers.
Amid the hustle and bustle, the mother suddenly realises something is not right. Her child is missing. The parents start frantically looking for their little boy.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a crowd, their child is crying his eyes out as he cannot find any familiar face. Fortunately for him, in such unkind surroundings, a tea vendor takes notice of him and takes him to nearby Jatrabari Police Station.
“The five-year-old was reunited with his parents right away. We searched for them and started miking in the area. The father came to the station quickly,” said Kazi Wazed Ali, officer-in-charge of the police station.
He said around five to six children are lost in the crowd every month in the area. They are either brought to them or on information, rescued.
A child getting lost in crowds is not an uncommon occurrence in the country. Unfortunately, human traffickers and sexual predators are on the prowl for such opportune moments to make their move, said the OC. “We have also alerted people in the area to remain cautious in this regard.”
To ensure that a mother gets reunited with her child, the police station also opened a “women and children friendly” desk this year, supervised by a female officer and constables.
Sub-inspector Laiju has been working at the desk since its inception. “It’s very rewarding to see a child being reunited with his/her parents,” she told this newspaper. “We also help women file complaints on various issues.”
But it’s not that simple all the time.
“On May 19, a vendor found a four-year-old girl crying near his shop in Jatrabari. Once he brought her to the police station, she could not say much,” the SI continued. “The vendor said a woman left her there.”
“In an instance like this, we try to be empathetic and patient with the child. We keep toys and chocolates at the [police] station to comfort children in such a traumatising situation,” she said. “The child was not feeling well, we also provided her with medical treatment.”
OC Wazed Ali added, “There are multiple ways we conduct our operations. We look for parents, then contact other police stations and also upload information of the child on Facebook groups and wait a day or two.”
“If no one shows up by that time, we hand over the child to Victim Support Centre in Tejgaon, where they stay till police find their parents,” he said. “In the four-year-old girl’s case, we are still continuing our search for her parents. She is at a support centre now.”
Lubna Mostafa, additional deputy commissioner of Women’s Support and Investigation Division (Victim Support Centre) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said police bring around 15-20 lost children to their centre from all over the city every month.
“Our first step is to look for their parents by contacting local police stations and uploading their information in Facebook groups or DMP news portal. After that we take help of the court, who then send the children to various shelter homes,” she said.
Despite the delay, the officials never lose hope.
On April 19, a 10-year-old girl got lost in Dayaganj Bottola area, on her way to Dhaka from Jamalpur with her father. The terrified girl was brought to the police station. All she could say was that she was from Melandaho, which is in Jamalpur.
The officials then contacted police there and asked for her whereabouts on social media.
Meanwhile, the girl was sent to Victim Support Centre. Twenty-five days later, her father, Mujibur Rahman, came to the station, looking for her.
“Words cannot express my joy after finding my Moyna [daughter]. We got off the bus to get some food. I don’t know how it happened, she got lost in the crowd. I looked for her everywhere, but to no avail,” Mujibur told The Daily Star over the phone. Moyna, he said, was standing beside him during the conversation.
“I sincerely thank police for their support. We almost gave up hope, but they [police] did not. They kept her safe,” he said; his voice choked with emotion.
Not just children, at times officials help parents find their way back home too.
SI Azharul Islam of the police station said, “On March 21, some people brought a woman to us after finding her on the street late at night. She did not seem mentally sound. Our female officers took care of her, and arranged lodgings for her.”
“The next day, after seeking help from other police stations, we learned that a woman was missing in Rampura. A general diary was also filed with Rampura Police Station. We collected phone number of the person who filed the GD.”
“We were waiting in front of Rampura Bazar. All of a sudden, a young woman ran towards us and hugged the other woman, calling her ‘mother’,” the SI said.
She informed that her mother was mentally unwell and a couple of days ago she left the house unnoticed.
“The mother and daughter reunion drew a lot of attention in the area, with people thanking us for our efforts,” said SI Azharul. “We felt good about it too.”
Then again, some cases were worth the difficulty, said officials at Jatrabari Police Station.
On May 8 morning, one Janria Janbir was found crying by the road in Cumilla’s Meghna area. When locals asked her, she said she was from Jatrabari. One of them brought her to the police station the same day.
“She was perplexed and gave us wrong information, though we did not know at that time,” said OC Wazed Ali. “She said she lived in Dhaka’s Rayerbazar and was a sixth grader. We took her there, and nearby areas and informed all the police stations, and posted her information on Facebook. At the same time, we tried to make sure that she stayed calm and did not panic.”
The next day, her father came to the station from Kachpur, around 6km from Jatrabari, and took her home.
Contacted, her father Sk Ilias Ahmed said her daughter went missing on May 6. A social worker found her in Daudkandi and took her to the police station. He filed a general diary with Gajaria Police Station on May 7.
“On May 8, one of my colleagues saw a Facebook post in a group about a missing girl and informed me. I went to the police station right away to find my daughter,” he told The Daily Star recently.
OC Wazed Ali said, “When we asked her why she gave us wrong information she said had she told us she was from a small town, we might not have paid that much attention to her like offering her food, a place to rest or look for her parents so earnestly.”
“She even started calling us uncles and aunts…,” he said smilingly. “But that’s okay. As we speak, that little girl is back home with her parents -- that’s all that matters.”