When 14-year-old Jagdish was spotted alone at Salem Railway Station, our outreach team knew he was in danger. India’s chaotic rail network is an ideal hunting ground for those looking to abuse and exploit vulnerable children – and with a child arriving alone on a platform every five minutes, there are so many at risk.
But Jagdish was one of the lucky ones. Our team saw him sitting alone and spoke to him, listening as he explained how he was trying to get to Tiruppur to meet his father. He told us that his father worked on a building site there, but he didn’t know the exact address or which train he needed to catch. Knowing the danger he was in at the station, we took him to our shelter nearby to keep him safe, give him something to eat and drink and start to understand his situation.
Staying at the shelter for a few weeks, Jagdish struggled to control his behaviour. He was aggressive with other children and with staff and it became obvious that he didn’t trust anyone. But our team kept talking to him, kept reassuring him and kept engaging him in activities until finally he calmed down and started to tell us the truth. We found out that the only phone number he had ever given us was not for his family, but for a friend who worked in a mechanic’s workshop. Jagdish had worked there too and spent the rest of his time roaming the streets with his friend, having dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Eventually he told us about his mother, who had married very young and felt unable to cope when he was born – leaving Jagdish with his uncle and moving away to work in the textile industry in Tiruppur.
Jagdish and his uncle had not got on well – the teenager felt abandoned and was angry and argumentative. His behaviour was increasingly bad and eventually his uncle gave up trying to control him which is when Jagdish took to the streets. He had no idea how to get in touch with his parents, but our team visited his hometown and spoke to the local community, contacting elders and authorities and eventually tracking down his mother and step-father. They had no idea what had happened to Jagdish and were happy to be reunited with him. We worked with the family to make sure they were able to take care of him properly and soon Jagdish was re-enrolled at school too.
We have been doing follow-up work with the family and Jagdish’s step father even took a week off work to make sure the boy settled back home well. Both adults are getting support in parenting and Jagdish and his family are happy and safe together.
We thought the best way to report on the impact our projects are having across India would be to tell you about one of the boys whose life was dramatically turned around by one of our Project Workers. Meet Sanoj...
11-year-old Sanoj was wandering around the marketplace when a stranger gave him an orange.
He’d been arguing with his mum and wasn’t ready to go home yet. It turned out the man knew Sanoj’s father. He was on his way to visit him and offered to take Sanoj along.
They boarded a train together. As the train took him far away from his home in Delhi, Sanoj started to suspect the man wasn't telling the truth. He realised he was in real danger.
Somehow he managed to escape and get off the train, but now he found himself alone in a vast and crowded station. Barely able to move amid the crush of bodies, Sanoj had no idea where he was or how to get home.
He was bewildered and anxious. He’d have been even more frightened if he’d known that every minute he spent alone on a busy railway platform, he was in grave danger of violence, exploitation or sexual abuse – a target for strangers who prey on lone children.
Somehow he squeezed his way through the sea of people and onto a train. He thought it was bound for Delhi, but he’d made a mistake. Instead it was taking him even further away from home, east towards to Lucknow.
Sanoj gasped for breath in the fuzzy heat. He felt sick. Peeping up at the expressionless faces in the packed carriage, he wondered who he could trust. Should he ask a stranger for help? Or was it safer to keep his mouth shut?
He felt a hand on his shoulder…
Sanoj was lucky. It was a Railway Protection Force Officer. Trained in child protection by Railway Children, the officer knew the signs that mean a child could be in danger. At the next station, the officer took Sanoj to one of our Child Protection Booths.
Staff at the Child Protection Booth made him feel safe.
They got him to sit down and have something to drink. Soon he felt calm enough to go with them to one of the drop-in centres we fund. With the help of the police, our staff tracked down his mother. She’d been frantic with worry.
One of our workers took Sanoj all the way back to Delhi and into his mother’s arms.
Sanoj never had to spend time on the streets – where the dangers are even greater than at the stations. His story has a happy ending because we reached him so swiftly.
Railway Children’s work across India is going from strength to strength this year and we have expanded across more stations to reach even more children before abusers do. The vulnerable youngsters who are lost, abandoned or trafficked through the railway network are in extreme danger – many are violently assaulted, exploited, killed or never seen again.
By making India’s chaotic stations safer for them, we can keep these children from harm.
One of the ways we do this is by operating 24 hour help desks for children on railway platforms. These offer advice and support as well as linking children to safe shelters nearby so our teams can work with them to find their families. We have now opened a third help desk in Tamil Nadu, meaning we can keep children safe across a vast area with teams based not only in Salem but also in Katpadi and Trichy.
The Salem station work has already made a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of children. Its impact led to the Trichy help desk opening in March, which in turn inspired officials at Katpadi to help us launch another in April. Between these three station locations, our teams will be able to reach more than 150 children every month - getting to them first and stopping them disappearing for good.
One of the children supported by one of our shelters in India was Rajan, a 14-year-old boy who had a very difficult start in life. He was living with his step-father after his mother moved to Punjab with his little brother, but he was a drunk and often violent man. He forced Rajan to drop out of school and go to work in a hotel.
One day they went by train to visit Rajan’s uncle but his step-father had been drinking and became aggressive. Other passengers stepped in and tried to stop him but he started hitting the boy’s head against the wall of the train in his rage, until he was bleeding and finally passed out.
Rajan woke up in hospital, having been taken into the custody of the Government Railway Police. He was there for three weeks and when he was discharged the GRP referred Rajan to Railway Children. He arrived at our shelter aggressive and agitated but soon settled and has become one of the brightest and most enthusiastic children there. He has ongoing counselling and feels safe and cared for – something he has not felt for a long time. Our outreach workers are trying to find Rajan’s mother, who he lost contact with, and are hoping to get him back into school soon.
Khusi was just 12 years old when she lost both her parents.
Her happy childhood in the village of Sakri in the Bihar district of India was abruptly taken away from her. She had been enjoying school, where she was doing well, and has passed class eight. Khusi dreamt of becoming a teacher but she was forced to put aside her ambitions. Instead, as the only girl in the family, she had to drop out of school to take on all the housework for her two brothers.
They would beat her regularly. She was also sexually abused but terrified of speaking out for fear of more violence. At 13, Khusi was forced to marry a local boy. Instead of finding escape with him, her marriage brought with it more beatings and abuse.
After six months, Khusi couldn’t take anymore and ran away with just the clothes she was wearing and 50 rupees in her pocket.
She got on a bus at Samastipur and soon arrived at Darbhanga Railway station. But here she faced even greater dangers. Children struggle to earn a living begging, selling plastic bottles or cleaning trains while older predators look for vulnerable targets to attack and abuse. Girls especially are taken, exploited and forced in to sex work where they are often never seen again.
Luckily, one of our outreach workers spotted Khusi sitting at platform two in an extremely distressed state, crying uncontrollably.
She was overwhelmed by the noise and chaos around her.
She couldn’t decide where to go and was starting to panic, as well as being hungry and scared. Our worker calmed her down and explained the risks she was facing. Khusi agreed to go with her to the Railway Children shelter at Darbhanga.
Here she was finally safe.
Khusi opened up to our team and explained her situation, begging not to be sent home. We managed to refer her to the child welfare committee the same day and by nightfall she was settled in a government-run girls’ home in Muzaffarpur.
But that was just the beginning. Our shelters offer immediate care – food, clothing and safety – to vulnerable children. They can provide accommodation, education and counselling and our family support helps find children a long-term safe solution.
We continued to work with Khusi and over the following weeks established contact with her grandmother. Khusi was welcomed into her home where the teenager is now happy, settled and able to look forward to a future without fear.
Your gift will help develop our shelters and give children like Khusi a future.
Raju was 14 years old when one of our outreach workers at Salem Railway Station spotted him on platform 4. They knew straight away something was wrong. He was exhausted and distressed; his clothes were torn and dirty and he was covered in scratches and feathers.
Railway Children’s team took Raju to our shelter where he had a shower and was given food and clean clothes. Raju gave his home phone numbers to the team who called his family and he broke down in tears as he spoke to his parents for the first time in a month and told them his story.
As the eldest of six children, Raju had dropped out of school to help support his family in Bihar, northern India, but he was persuaded to travel south to the Tamil Nadu region where wages are higher. Tempted by the promise of more money, Raju made the 1,250-mile journey without telling his parents.
Raju was given a job in a poultry farm in nearby Namakkal where he spent a month in terrible conditions with insufficient food and was made to work long hours in unhygienic conditions. The factory operated 24-hours a day and there were no set sleeping times so Raju was forced to wait until his supervisor was asleep before lying down on the filthy floor with the chickens to rest. He was beaten regularly and eventually managed to escape, desperately trying to make his way home. He got as far as Salem Station where our team found him and made sure he was safe.
“Raju was lucky we got to him first, before the traffickers. He probably had minutes before he would have been taken by another trafficker.”
We were able to reunite Raju with his family, who had been desperately searching neighbouring villages for him. He would never have made it home without our help and may never have seen his family again. He would have vanished like so many children do in India every day.
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