The Railway Protection Force (RPF) has found more than 43,000 missing children at 88 major railway stations across India over the last five years in collaboration with the Union ministry of child development and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), according to officials familiar with the matter.
RPF data shows that the number of children rescued has been growing every year since the railway ministry, the women and child development (WCD) and NCPCR issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) in 2015 that included a protocol for rescue, and for better care and protection of children in contact with the railways.
“This year has been declared as the year for the safety of women and children in the Indian Railways. Hence we started this special programme of setting up the child helpline and help desk. We also had a rigorous training session for our men to identify these children and suspicious persons involved in the transportation of children and conducting inquiries accordingly,” said Arun Kumar, director general of RPF.
Under the programme, help desks and kiosks have so far been set up at 88 important railway stations, including all 75 stations that have an ‘A1’ designation. At these stations, the ‘child help’ group comprises of the Station Superintendent/ Station Master-Convener, an inspector, an RPF officer, a station house officer (SHO) and a senior section engineer. In addition, the WCD ministry nominates NGOs to help in rehabilitation.
“The NCPCR collaborated with us for railway stations. We figured that railway stations are the main mode of transport for children being displaced and transported for various purposes — child labor, human trafficking, organ extortion, etc.
“The main purpose for touts and middlemen is to sell organs, push them to child labor, abuse etc. Railway stations were identified as a major hub for these activities,” said a senior RPF officer who asked not to be named. RPF is a security force entrusted with protecting passengers, railway stations, and railway property.
Runaway, missing or abandoned children rescued from railway stations by the RPF and railways staff are brought to these child help groups.
“Efforts are made to reunite the children with their parents. It does not happen, the children are then handed over to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the district,” the officer added.
In 2014, before the programme started, 5,294 children were rescued from railway stations. This grew to 7,044 in 2015, 8,593 in 2016 and 11,178 in 2017. Till October this year, 11,151 children have already been rescued.
“The child is first taken to RPF personnel, a call on 1098 child helpline is made then a team from the childline goes and gets the child. We have to present the child before the child welfare committee within 24 hours followed by which we assess the age of the child, get the medical checkup and then provide a shelter home. We also try to locate the parents of the child, in cases where we can contact them we hand over the child after verification,” said Anita Rana, Director, Janhit foundation.
Of the total number of children rescued so far, 22,343 were runways, 1,766 children were being trafficked and 9,404 were street children. Of the total, 33,416 were boys and 9,844 girls, according to the data.
“NCPRC has the job of identifying the NGOs for the stations. We have to approach them to nominate NGOs because we cannot give these children unless they are authenticated and accredited. As a pilot project, we started on 35 stations then further approval was given for 33 more,” said the RPF officer quoted said.
The railway ministry has now given its approval for 174 more railway stations to be covered, and work on them has begun, he added.
“In the railways, we implemented this across all major junctions covering 20 states and union territories. It is not possible to execute it in all railway stations, but we are covering those where the number of children being found as runaways is higher. Most of the times, these kids tend to fall in bad company and end up using drugs or enter crime,” said Rakesh Srivastava, secretary, WCD ministry, adding that this was “the best example of public-NGO partnership”.