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The Railway Children

By Madi Shrama, EuAsiaNews,

New Delhi : On buses in London, Brussels and many European cities are posters of children who have ran away from home, or who are missing.

However it was shocking to learn that over a three day period, 762 unaccompanied children arrived on Old Delhi Railway Station from across India. Similar amounts arrived at New Delhi Station and other stations across India, and do so on a daily basis.

They are known as the “street children”, who left home seeking adventure, work, playing truant from school or as a result of physical abuse or poverty at home.

As soon as they arrive in the big cities they want to return home, but can’t through lack of money, fear or because they are now lost.

Several groups of people wait on the platforms for these innocent children traffickers and pimps, agents selling the children to workhouses or for maid servants, other street children who have made their homes and livings on the stations and members of SATHI, an NGO rescuing the children from the platforms.

SATHI – Society for Assistance to Children in Difficult Situations – provides shelter, food , counselling and a repatriation service for the street children in order to protect them from the exploitation they may otherwise suffer.

SATHI staff are present on the platforms of many major railway stations from 5am -11pm looking for children at risk.

Once identified these children are taken to shelters, where available , and counselled in an attempt to repatriate them as quickly as possible with their parents. Often this counselling takes 3-5 days, but it is the early intervention by the team that protects the children from the dangers of the platforms and makes repatriation more successful.

Delayed intervention, and for those who make the platform their home life comes at a cost – addiction, sexual abuse, petty theft and odd jobs as a means of survival.

Identified as a positive solution, SATHI often works in conjunction with the Railway Protection Force, Government Railway Police, local passengers, vendors and older children.

Due to constraints in resources SATHI has to transfer many children to Child Welfare Centres or other organisations offering support.

SATHI has a unique approach having identified that the best solution for these children is to get them back to their homes and parents as quickly as possible.

Once returned home, SATHI follows up with the child and their parents for at least a year. The results show that 75% of the children continue to stay at home and do not run away again.

Last week in New Delhi was the third camp organized by Sathi and Prayas, in their three years of partnership work, in collaboration with Northern Railway and Railway Protection Force (RPF) to support children on the railway platforms, motivate them, educate and rehabilitate them with proper care and guidance.

Rakesh was just one of the 10 boys who met their family after a long period of troubled separation. A few weeks earlier he was living on the New Delhi railway platform, like many other boys of his age, earning his daily food by begging or doing petty jobs, and unwilling to return home.

Today he was a changed person, sitting next to his mother, he was making plans to go home, study further and mend all mistakes. He had learnt about it from the de-addiction and Home Orientation Camp organized by Sathi and Prayas in Delhi.