The number of destitute children rescued on platforms of suburban railway stations in 2016 has increased by more than 200 per cent as compared to last year. The increase has been attributed to a rise in the number of runaway children and better surveillance by officials in finding them. According to records with the Railway Protection Force (RPF), while 144 children were rescued from railway platforms last year, the total amounts to 553 this year. This also includes missing children. The number of runaway children which include those who have left homes on purpose top the list, officials said.
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According to figures, 241 boys and 142 girls were found on railway platforms in the Western Railway division in Mumbai this year. Of the total children rescued, 340 children were returned to their parents, 64 were given to the Government Railway Police (GRP) officials and 109 were given to NGOs and child helplines.
“There has been a surge in the number of runaway children being found on the railway platforms in the city. Many of them had left home on purpose either due to family issues or in search of odd jobs at a younger age. Our aim has been to get them to some place safe,” said a senior Railway Protection Force (RPF) official.
“The age group of such children varies between 6 and 18 years of age. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Mumbai Central, Dadar remain the major stations where the number remains high as they are the major terminus points for the entry of outstation commuters. Most of the children belong to other states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and others. While rescuing and rehabilitating them, we ensure safety checks of their respective homes first,” said an RPF official.
Officials have attributed the rise in the number of those rescued since last year to better surveillance on platforms through CCTV cameras, greater strength of officers employed and Operation Muskaan undertaken to take missing children home. Also, greater awareness has been recorded in reporting these cases through more childline desks posted at railway stations in comparison to last year.
“We once received a call from one of the cobblers at a railway platform in the city who reported the case of a missing child. By categorising such children on the basis of the reasons why they are away from homes and keeping a close watch on suspicious activities at the station, we have been able to find more of them,” said Kishor Bhamre, Director, Pratham Council, that rehabilitates destitute children.
Fascination of coming to the city and traveling by local trains or personal issues among children tend to be the major reasons of why they are away from homes. There has also been an increase in the cases of minor children wanting to get married and start a new life, where they eventually end up on railway platforms, officials said.
“In the cases of young couples who come to Mumbai, it becomes important on our part to sit and convince them about how it is required that they go back home. With missing complaints being registered against them by their parents, it becomes imperative upon us too to find them and safely make them reach home,” said an official from Childline Foundation.
However, through better inter-state co-ordination and fixed responsibilities of different stakeholders in this process, the return of such children has become simpler, they said. What they seek now is use of advanced technology to ensure the number of trafficking cases also goes down.
“Though we try our best to rescue the trafficked children, we are not always able to trace them. A little help from commuters and better surveillance at stations before the entrance in the city could help,” added Bhamre.