CHENNAI: For almost an hour on Sunday afternoon, platform number 10 at Chennai Central Railway Station drew several curious onlookers. A street play organised by non-governmental organisation Karunalaya there was the reason.
Over 50 children, who had run away from homes and were later rescued by it, were part of an awareness campaign conducted by the NGO in association with the Southern Railway Public Relations Office.
The campaign took off with Karunalaya volunteers dancing to the tune of drum-beats, which drew the crowds. Addressing the audience, director of the NGO N.Paul Sundersingh said it was important to ensure that children on the streets were protected.
“Several children who run away from homes for various reasons can be found at the Chennai Central and Egmore stations and major bus stands,” he said.
A survey of 100 street children in the city, conducted by Karunalaya, found that 21 of them have absolutely no contact with the parents and live independently.
A total of 59 per cent male children and 70 per cent female children said they felt unsafe. A cause of concern is that 34 per cent of male children and 29 per cent of female children reported sexual abuse.
More than half of the respondents reported first sexual contact between the age of 7 and 10. Ten per cent of these children were found to have sexually transmitted diseases.
The street play depicted how a child is compelled to run away from home when faced with violence and lack of parental care and affection. Violence within homes and in schools was depicted. A scene showed how a teacher pulled a poorly performing student by the ear and abused him for not studying properly. In the next scene the child was shown as having come to Chennai Central Station by train and being netted by child racketeers and exploited for labour.
The play conveyed the message that putting an end to violence against children alone could resolve the issue of children running away from homes.
The campaign also urged the public to report to the relevant authorities such as the police or child helpline ‘1908’ just in case they found the children wandering alone in public places.
K.V. Prakasam, station manager at Central Railway Station, spoke about how the railway authorities co-ordinated with the NGO to rescue such children who had run away from homes.