As about eight lakh of over 40 lakh people who returned to Bihar are below 18 years of age and are vulnerable to child labour and trafficking, the Railway Protection Force of Eastern Central Railway are being trained by the Unicef to safeguard children from child labour and trafficking.
This is the first such collaboration between the force and Unicef. Unicef says there has been 50% increase in child protection calls during lockdown in the country, and Bihar was chosen because of it had the highest number of children among returning migrants.
Inspector General, RPF (ECR) Mayank said: “Though RPF had been looking at overall protection, special five-day training by Unicef, which started from Sonepur division on Wednesday, has been making our constables, inspectors and senior officers aware about all legal and social aspects of child labour, trafficking and abuse”.
RPF rescued 1,309 children in 2017, 854 in 2018, 830 in 2019 and 124 till May 2020.
The RPF IG said it would be a long, sustainable exercise that would expand to all railway stations.
“RPF escorts in trains will now keep vigil on children below 18 years. We would have to identify vulnerable children. As most of us are busy dealing with Covid challenges, children were being ignored. Disaster times only increases their vulnerability,” said the IG.
Gargi Saha, the Child Protection Officer of Unicef in Bihar said: “We had kept a close watch on Shramik special trains, which brought back several children working as child labour in various parts of the country. Though we had been trying for such a collaboration with RPF for more than a year, Covid challenges and migrants’ mass return gave us a sense of urgency to start the exercise”.
Saha said that since RPF was the first responder in case of child labour, trafficking and abuse, RPF personnel need to know much more beyond RPF Act and Railways Act.
“We are simplifying Juvenile Justice and POCSO Act to them and trying to impress upon that handing over children to police would not solve the problem. Most cases of child delinquency can be prevented at counselling stage. Plus, we want a better space for such children at railway stations which must have medical, counselling and transit stay arrangements”.
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