One of the main challenges of improving the lives of children living on the streets and platforms of India is the way they are viewed by the people who see them every day.
Either they’re seen as a nuisance – an inevitable presence and a problem that is someone else’s responsibility – or they are not seen at all. The shocking and heartbreaking truth is that because children living alone and at risk are such a common sight on India’s railway platforms, people walk past them every day and have simply stopped noticing them.
As an organisation tackling a huge issue in a vast country, Railway Children cannot reach every child who needs our help by ourselves. It is possible to reach many more children if their local communities perceive them as vulnerable and in need of help rather than as a nuisance, and are actively engaged and enthusiastic about making a difference to them. Railway Children works at community level to challenge and change the perceptions of communities towards children living on the platforms, recruit their help to prevent children from running away in the first place and to notice and assist those who do.
To help communities to deal with the problems and issues that lead to children running away in the first place, Railway Children set up Child Protection Committees in 23 high-risk districts. These are volunteer-run initiatives that engage and involve communities with child welfare and child protection issues in their village. They enable communities to make use of government funding for child protection in their local area and to deal with and take ownership of issues that affect their children. They also provide a vital link to statutory services.
By combining a number of initiatives, Railway Children created five Child Friendly Stations, through outreach work and by educating the various groups of people who work on and around the platforms about how their contribution is vital to keeping children safe and how they can help. Railway Children teaches station communities – staff, vendors, the Railway Protection Force, and the police – how to identify and help children who are alone and at risk.
Railway Children provide Child Protection Booths, which are safe spaces that children can access and be directed to by station staff, and trains Peer Workers to help reach children who are difficult to engage with because they are wary of adults.
From Child Protection Booths, children can be referred to drop-in centres where they receive food, clothing, medical assistance, and from which the best long-term solution for their individual circumstances can be determined. Where possible and appropriate, Railway Children reunites children with their families.
By expanding the work in India and increasing the number of Child Friendly Stations and areas benefiting from Child Protection Committees, Railway Children will be able to reach more children in more locations and keep more children safe.