Mumbai police have issued a warning against spreading rumours about alleged child kidnapping incidents in the city. This followed several messages going viral on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.
These viral messages are being shared in the form of voice notes and text messages have claimed that over 800 child kidnappings have been reported in Mumbai including details of individual cases in areas of Kurla and Andheri.
BOOM spoke to Mumbai police officials who said they investigated the incidents mentioned in the messages and found that they were baseless and no such kidnapping cases have taken place in the city and all viral posts are talking about fake incidents.
One of the viral messages asks "mothers" in Mumbai to be alert and claims, "Kids r getting kidnapped In Mumbai. It is been observed by the complaints file at most of the police station in Mumbai tht more than 800 children's age between 5 to 15 specially school going are been getting kidnapped for human trafficking."
The post further goes on to talk about a kidnapping of a 11-year-old boy named Nishant. The message read like this: "When My Son Nishant Age 11 Years, Was Playing Around Society, Vasudev Nagar, Nagardas Road, Opp SOna Udhyog Industries, Pari Panchayat Road Andheri East. A Suspicious Person Saw Him alone and He Dragged Him CLosing his Mouth and Carried him on arms and Started Walking around 700-800 Meters Bravely My Son Bite his Hands and Ran Far and Entered a Shop. Luckily he Was Safe and That Kidnapper Ran Away. Gave Written Complain to Andheri East Police Station, Waiting for Tommorow Police to take Action on it."
The message also asks residents to install CCTV cameras in their buildings claiming, "As Per News we got to Know around 400-500 People are Roaming around mumbai to kidnap Small Childrens.
Several Facebook posts have shared the message asking parents to be alert.
Another viral message BOOM received on its helpline is a screenshot of a circular issued by a residential complex in Kurla, a suburb in Mumbai. The circular titled "Vigilance Required To Protect Your Kids", dated September 15, 2022 was issued by HDIL Premier Exotica 1A building in Kurla by the building committee manager Amol Katkar and is signed by him.
The circular states, "From yesterday, 2 children from our HDIL Premier Exotica 1A building are missing, who were playing on the basement area. All parents are requested to take care of the children while playing and not to leave the children alone at the basement/parking/lift area. Children should be guided to play in the presence of guardians and only on the ground floor, and not below that."
The circular then goes on to issue instructions to occupants who have house helps should register their names and photos ids and ask them to enter only after daily registration.
BOOM also received the circular on its helpline number, sent by various readers who wanted us to verify the information in the circular.
The image of the circular was being shared with three audio clips - all voice notes - shared by concerned citizens claiming child kidnapping cases were rampant in the city. One such voice note, refers to the alleged kidnapping at HDIL Premier Exotica mentioned in the circular and asks parents to not let their circular step out alone.
After going through the viral messages and the audio notes, we found that they make several claims including that up to 800-1000 children in the age group of 5-15 years have been kidnapped from Mumbai. Additionally, they referred to three specific incidents of kidnapping -- three children kidnapped from Kala Vidya Mandir School, two kidnapped from HDIL Premier Exotica building in Kurla and the third incident of an 11-year-old kidnapped from Andheri.
BOOM spoke to police officers in Mumbai police who said they had investigated the incidents mentioned in the viral messages and found them to be baseless and in some cases a misrepresentation of facts.
KIDNAPPING AT KALA VIDYA MANDIR SCHOOL, ANDHERI
We first found that there is a Kala Vidya Mandir High School located in Mumbai, located in Andheri (East) region. We then contacted the police station under whose jurisdiction the school falls and a police officer said the message was fake and no such incident was reported at the school.
"We visited the school to enquire about such a case where the school authorities denied that any student from their school was reported missing. The school also reached out to parents who also did not report about any missing children. We then started enquiring into the origins of the viral audio message and found that it was sent by a private tuition teacher who taught several children from the school," said the police officer from Powai police station.
He added, "With the help of the school, we traced the tuition teacher and she was called for questioning. During questioning she said that she had no proof of such a kidnapping and had only been told about it by some of her students. After being told that the incident was untrue, the teacher apologised and also issued an apology letter to the school."
The apology letter where the woman in the audio admits to sending the viral message is attached below :
BOOM has blurred names to protect the person's identity.
Following this, the management of Kala Vidya Mandir school also submitted a written complaint to the police about the viral message and the fake child kidnapping scare. They also informed that the woman who recorded the audio had apologised.
The letter in Marathi is addressed to the Powai police station and says that no child kidnapping incident occurred at the school and the tuition teacher has since apologised for spreading panic. "She did not expect the message to go viral to such an extent. Once she was informed that the information she received about three children being kidnapped was untrue, she apologised."
KIDNAPPING AT HDIL PREMIER EXOTICA BUILDING, KURLA
BOOM contacted Vinoba Bhave (VB) Nagar police station which is the jurisdictional police station for the HDIL Premier residential complex and found that no FIR or missing persons report had been registered.
A police source termed the viral circular as containing false information. "We visited the building and asked the residents, security guards and the management committee about the letter and they all gave inconsistent answers. The building has several CCTV cameras and none of them showed a children being kidnapped," the officer added. He explained that none of the residents in the building had approached the police station to register an FIR about a missing child. "If such an incident had happened, the first thing the parents would have done is come to the police station. But nothing of that sort happened. We were shocked when we saw the viral circular," he said.
The police refused to comment if any action had been taken against the building management for issuing a letter containing misinformation.
We then contacted Prashant Kadam, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone VII who handles the areas of Kurla and Powai--where the two incidents allegedly occurred.
Kadam called the viral message fake and said people should not believe in rumours that spread panic. He also shared with BOOM a video statement issued by him regarding the cases.
In the video statement, Kadam says, "In the last few days, there have been several rumours being shared on social media about two children being kidnapped in a Vikhroli school and about child kidnappings in HDIL residential society. We as Mumbai police, want to assure people that there is no truth in any of these messages and they are rumours. No such incident has occured. Some one has spread such rumours to create mischief and we will take strict action against those spreading such rumours."
The same can be heard below:
11-YEAR-OLD BOY KIDNAPPED FROM ANDHERI
Another viral message claimed that a 11-year-boy named Nishant had been kidnapped when he was playing near "his house in Vasudev Nagar, opposite Sona Udyog Industries on Pari Panchayat road in Andheri east."
We first ran a search for news reports with keywords of Nishant + Andheri about any such kidnapping case and did not find a report. Upon looking for Pari Panchayat road in Andheri we found that there is no road by such a name and the actual name is Parsi Panchayat road.
BOOM then contacted Andheri police station and spoke to Senior Police Inspector Santaji Ghorpade, who explained that they had received a written complaint on September 18, 2022 from a man (name withheld) who alleged that while his nephew was walking on the footpath near their house, some man aged 20-25 had attempted to abduct him by forcibly catching holding of his hand.
"We started investigating the case and on September 19, 2022 accompanied by the child and his father, visited the spot where the incident had allegedly occurred. Upon scanning CCTV footage, we found that the minor boy walked alone and nobody approached him or attempted to pull his hand and drag him away, as claimed. The boy was not even running in the CCTV footage, he was just seen walking. We also visited a shop run by a physically abled woman, where the boy had allegedly sought help, and the woman there denied that the boy had come to her for any kind of help," said Ghorpade.
He added that once presented with facts, the father was convinced. When asked whether the minor had fabricated the scenario, Ghorpade said "they were still investigating why the boy did such an act."
Maheshwar Reddy, DCP, Zone 10, said that the police had enquired with the father on why he sent such a message to which they were told that it was sent by his friend. "Our investigation and the accompanying CCTV footage showed that nothing as claimed by the boy or in the viral message occurred. We are still ascertaining why the minor made those claims. Those viral posts are rumours and people should make relevant enquiries before believing them," he said.
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