Protecting children at India's busiest station

  • Date: 29/03/2016
  • In: India

Shashikala Kale leads Project Talaash – the children’s search and rescue team based at the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai – one of the busiest railway stations in India. She told us what she does in a typical day:

“You get to know the warning signs that tell you a child might be in trouble. They often have a frightened or confused look in their eyes or they might be sitting alone in one place without speaking to anyone. Some are very dirty as they have nowhere to shower or wash their clothes. 

Rc151 Shashikala

“Some children jump up onto trains to look for left-over food or to use the toilets. And many sleep in long-distance trains. They scramble into them while they’re stationed in sidings overnight. Others sleep under bridges, near the bus stops or the canteens or just on the pavements around the station.

“During the day we find children begging or rag-picking – scavenging through bins to find anything that could be sold or recycled. I see them on their hands and knees, sifting through heaps of rubbish and filth, surrounded by dogs, rats and huge vicious crows.

“The biggest challenge for outreach workers like me is getting the children to safety and changing their lives. I build relationships with the Railway Police officers and the Railway Protection force and other station and railway staff so we can work together to make the station safer.

“My job varies from day to day – you never know what problems a particular child will need help with – so I often spend time in the wider community. I liaise with government children’s homes and other agencies which support street children and I work with the families of those children who might be able to return home safely. Many of the children we work with suffer from serious health conditions like TB. Skin diseases and STIs are also common, so some days I might spend hours with a child in hospital. These children have no-one else to be there for them – or to pay for their treatment. 

“It makes me very happy when we manage to address the issues that led a child to run away and we can reunite them with their families willingly and safely. We follow up regularly when a child has returned home to check that life really is getting better for them.

“But I feel frustrated when the people who should care for these children the most – their own families – show no interest in them. In those situations I’m glad we’re there for the children when no-one else is. And I will always be grateful to every single kind-hearted person who donates money to our cause so that we can keep on doing this important work.”