India’s major railway stations are vast, chaotic places used by millions of passengers every day. Children arrive on the platforms having boarded a train near their home, often dreaming of a better life in the big, bright cities. Instead, they find themselves alone in the terrifying bustle of a huge station populated by thousands of strangers, with no idea where to go or what to do next.
Once on the streets, they are highly vulnerable and an easy target for abusers. Violence and sexual exploitation often become a way of life; often they’re even necessary for survival.
Many children turn to drug use as an escape from the horrors of their reality. With no support or protection, children live with constant fear, loneliness and hopelessness.
They can see no way to escape the relentless poverty, violence, hunger and abuse.
If we can reach children when they first arrive, we can intervene before the horrors of life on the platforms become a reality for them. Some children run away to escape serious abuse, but many children we reach at this stage can be returned home to their families. We provide support to help families make changes in their lives so the child doesn’t run away again.
Our outreach workers go out and meet children, to talk to them about the possibility of a life away from the streets and offer them a safe place to stay, food, clothing and medical assistance. Often children are extremely traumatised, frightened and vulnerable. They may have been abused before or after running away and many are very wary of adults.
We train older children who have lived on the streets themselves and who understand the issues and fears facing children first-hand. They go out and gain the trust of children who won’t engage with adults. We’re very proud of our Peer Worker initiatives, which provide training and direction for older children as well as a way for us to help children we otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.
At a number of stations we provide Child Protection Booths, which are safe spaces that children can access.
Watch the video to find out more.
From the Child Protection Booths children can be referred to one of our drop-in centres, located on or near the railway stations, where they can access clean clothes, food, medical care, emotional and psychological support, and education.
Our drop-in centres also offer vocational training to children and assist young people to secure jobs which help them leave street life. Counselling sessions give children the opportunity to explore their experiences through music, dance and art. They can address their emotions and prepare for a return to family life.
Children can also stay the drop-in centres while we work with them to decide the best course of action for their individual circumstances. Where possible and appropriate we work to reunite children with their families. For children who cannot be reunited with their families, we work to arrange alternative long-term care.
Because the issue is so vast, we can’t reach every child who needs our help. To reach as many children as possible we work with the people who spend time around the stations, and with communities.Find out about community level work