No other place better reflects the seriousness of India's missing children from poor families than the New Delhi Railway Station, where every year 1,000 children reach not knowing where to go — apparently the highest figure for any railway station in the country.
Some, even after being caught by railway authorities, still go missing in the absence of coordination between government authorities concerned.
This is what the Railway Protection Force (RPF) has said in a 'Right to Information' reply to Raj Mangal Prasad of NGO Pratidhi.
For the little ones coming from mostly bimaru states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, all have tales of horror to tell. "Some had not eaten for days, others complained of torture in the hands of traffickers and a few recalled the state of poverty back home. Many of these children come to Delhi in search of a good life but many are also trafficked," said a senior railway official, recalling his interaction with many such children.
The RPF said in 2006, 1,141 children were found at the New Delhi Railway Station and the figure till March 2007 was 166. At other stations in Delhi, except Nizamuddin, for where figures were not available, missing children found were negligible, the RTI reply said.
So many missing children being traced at railway stations is not unexpected. An NHRC study in 2004 said railway stations remain the second home for a large number of missing children in India.
Despite these staggering figures, RPF's Achla Sinha, in her reply, admits that there is no special programme for the abandoned or missing children found but says the police are briefed to be polite with these children. These children are either forwarded to NGO Prayas or the Child Welfare Committee of the Delhi government, she said.
The process of transition from the station to a children's home is not smooth as Sinha makes it appear in her reply.
Prasad said some children go missing in this transition and he points out the case of Mohd Asim as one example.
Railway authorities found Asim at the New Delhi Railway Station on January 31 this year. A railway official handed him over at a Prayas counter the same day, the RTI reply said. But, Rajesh Kumar, coordinator with Prayas, denied having received the child at the station counter. So, the child is still missing instead of being under government protection.
Prasad said such a thing could have been avoided had he been handed over to a government agency under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The railways, it appears, has realised its mistake and has asked officials to initiate action in the case of missing children under the Act.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, said Sreerupa Chaudhury of the National Legal Service Authority. "Only a few children are rescued at railway stations. The rest reach factories or end up on streets begging or in prostitute dens. Unless the government is keen to implement the Juvenile Justice Act seriously, the future of our poor children will remain in the dark," she said.