Despite laws being formulated, runaway children continue to face violence in homes, shelters and institutions

Unable to cope with difficult situations at home, children sometimes run away to escape the grind and end up at railway platforms unaware of the harsh consequences that await them.

More than 300 runaway children land up on railway platforms across the country daily. This adds up to 1,20,000 children arriving at 50 mainline railway stations each year, according to official estimates. Of every 250 children who come to the platforms, only 40 per cent are rescued while the rest disappear without a trace. The field staff of some voluntary organisations that work with street children are posted on the platforms looking for children who seem lost or are alone. According to the report of one such organisation, Society for Assistance to Children in Difficult Situation (SATHI), the rescuers have only eight minutes to find the child otherwise they are picked up by traffickers .

Sometimes the rescued children are sent to shelter homes where they stay till their parents are traced. This may take many months, after which protracted negotiations and counselling of the parents and children take place, at the end of which, home placement is proffered as the best alternative, according to Founder of Sathi, Pramod Kulkarni. In such a scenario, it is important that every shelter home has a specialised and professional psychologist to talk to the children, said Dr Anuradha Marwah, Professor, Delhi University at a convention on rehabilitation of runaway children held in the Capital recently.

“Unfortunately, we see that the primary care giver or the person who handles the child is the least paid and most transitory in the entire set up,” said Dr Marwah.

Sometimes, of the thousands of children rescued, a handful that are sent back home, continue to be beaten up by alcoholic fathers. “But what can we do? We have to send the child back as it is the best alternative for him,” says Mr Kulkarni.

Sanjay Kumar, whose theatre group Pandies has been living and working with children in shelter homes, says, “Sadly, the platforms, homes and institutions are all connected by the language of violence.” From hosing down of children, to caste based distribution of tasks such as cleaning of toilets to exchanging sexual favours, these children face violence in all its myriad forms, even at the shelters. “Mostly when they choose to go back home, or stay on in the shelters or go back on the streets, it is a matter of choosing the least exploitative of them all for the child,” says Mr Kumar.

How should a child be engaged in a shelter home? Whether specialised psychologists should be present at shelters? Who should decide where to place a child? All these questions are guided by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Amendment Act, 2006. “It is a central Act but the states can form their own rules,” explained BBL Srivastava, former Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Kanpur. Moreover, the notion of the family as ‘holy cow’ should also be looked into if proper rehabilitation of a child is to be done and the root of the problem addressed, felt participants at the convention.

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