Seven girls, including five witnesses in the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, went missing from a government-run children’s home in Bihar’s Mokama town on Saturday, IANS reported. The inmates were shifted to the Children’s Home for Girls in Mokama’s Nazareth Hospital from Muzaffarpur a few months back.

District Magistrate Kumar Ravi said officials have launched a search operation to locate the missing girls. “A case has been lodged with the Mokama police station on Saturday morning,” he added.

Senior Superintendent of Police Garima Malik said the police were conducting raids at bus stops and railway stations. “We are looking at all the angles to identify if the girls escaped voluntarily or they were forced to flee from the shelter home,” she said.

Bihar Director General of Police Gupteshwar Pandey told The Indian Express that authorities have sounded an alert to all Government Railway Police stations to look out for the missing girls. Several senior police officials as well as administrative officers reached the Mokama shelter home to take stock of the situation. A team of forensic science experts also reached the spot to collect evidence.

According to the police, the inmates escaped by breaking open the window of a restroom towards the rear side of the campus. Later, the girls used a dupatta to climb down the 10-feet boundary wall.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had transferred the trial in the case to a special court in New Delhi’s Saket and ordered it to complete it within six months. The court had also criticised the Bihar government’s management of shelter homes.

The alleged sexual exploitation of children at the shelter came to light in April 2018 after Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences submitted an audit report of 110 shelter homes in Bihar. The audit had been ordered by the state government, which filed a first information report against 11 people on May 31.

At least 34 inmates were allegedly drugged and raped, according to law enforcement agencies. The Central Bureau of Investigation – in it chargesheet filed in December – alleged that the main accused, Brajesh Thakur, had coerced girls to dance to vulgar songs and have sexual intercourse with guests. Thakur is currently lodged in a high-security prison in Punjab.