AHMEDABAD: The city attracts hundreds of visitors from different parts of the country every day. Some come in search of jobs or to establish a business while some others are here simply to see the state. Nowadays, however, it is children from other states found on railway platforms unescorted by any adult, who are keeping the railway police busy. In the past three months, the four railway stations in the city have reported one such child found almost each day. These children do not have their home in Gujarat. In 2012-13, the railway police had reported finding 239 such children in the entire year. In the first three months of 2013-14, 85 runaway kids have been found at the city’s railway stations, a rise of 41 per cent.
Childline, an NGO working for child rights and which has a pan-India network for lost-and-found children, reported finding 85 children between March and June this year on the platforms of the city’s railway stations. These kids, aged from 6 years to 16 years, were from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengaland Delhi. In three instances, the police found more than one such child on a day.
Purnima Gupta, assistant director of Childline, said that a majority of the children found alone at railway stations are boys. “The ratio between boys and girls is almost 3:1. Girls run away in search of greater security, particularly if they are orphaned, but boys leave their native places either to seek employment or after a fight at home. Most of these kids have just a few rupees to spend on travel and food. Once the money is spent, they get down at a railway station. As Ahmedabad is an important station on the Delhi-Mumbai route and has many trains touching the city, many children end their journey here,” she said.
The city has four major railway stations – Kalupur, Maninagar, Vatva and Sabarmati. Childline officials said that most runaway children are found at Kalupur railway station. PP Pirojiya, Government Railway Police (GRP) inspector at Kalupur railway station, said that police alertness for children wandering alone at the station had increased after several children were reported missing within a short period of time last year.
“From February 2012, two teams led by a sub-inspector constantly keep watch for children who may be travelling alone. If found, they are taken to the police station where woman constables and NGO representatives question them about their native place and try to send them back,” he said. He added that in 2012-13, more than 45 such children were found while in 2013-14 so far, they have reported 23 such kids.
Why do children run away from home? Gupta said that anything can trigger a knee-jerk response from children. “In a case reported in June, we found a 13-year-old boy at Kalupur railway station. He was from Janakpuri in New Delhi. When questioned, he stated that his father had beaten him up for playing games on his elder brother’s mobile phone. He felt hurt and ran away from home. When we contacted his father the following day, he rushed to Ahmedabad and took him back to Delhi,” she said.BOX
Girls seek greater security
Officials of Railway Protection Force (RPF) say that they had noticed a rise in the number of girl kids running away from home. Strangely, many of them are in search of greater security.
“This might seem contradictory but most such girls have either lost their parents or are unattached to their families because they had started working early in life. The most shocking case was reported in April this year when a six-year-old girl was found alone at Kalupur railway station. She said she had lost her parents earlier this year and after that the shanty in which she lived in Delhi was also demolished. When some miscreants tried to abduct her, she fled from the locality and boarded a train,” said a police official. Later, the girl was shifted to Mahipatram Asharm.
Odd jobs suck in runaway kids
What happens to a child who lands in the city alone and is able to remain undetected? Sources said that while girls usually take up jobs as domestic help, boys frequently end up working at small industrial units in areas such as Odhav, Vatva and Naroda where they are exploited as cheap labour. Childline officials said that they had rescued a 14-year-old boy working at a panipuri handcart in Gomtipur. The boy was from Muzaffarpur where he had been pushed into farm labour at an early age. When he did not like it there, he fled home and ended up in Ahmedabad serving at the handcart.
“It shocked us when he told volunteers that he was suffering from gall bladder stones and wanted to save money for the surgery. Despite severe pain, he had worked for a pittance and without a day off for five months. After he was found, we called his uncle and handed over the boy to him,” said a Childline official.