Ten-year-old Pawan Kumar’s ordeal may finally be over. Pawan used to wash utensils at a food stall near the New Delhi railway station. An average day meant getting up at the crack of dawn, sweeping the shop and storing water for cooking. A break came only at the end of the day — with sleep. On Wednesday, a combined team of the Government Railway Police and Pratidhi, an NGO working with street children, rescued him.
Over 20 underage children like him employed illegally at eateries and tea stalls around the railway station were rescued in raids conducted in the area. A majority of these children come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar while a few are from Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The children are now lodged in the Children’s Home for Boys in Alipur.
How Pawan ended up working when he should be in school is the story of too many other children like him. An orphan, he lived in Etah, Uttar Pradesh, with his relatives till the beatings at the hands of his alcoholic uncle became too much. He escaped from home and reached Mathura by train. Then one day, he boarded a train for Delhi. If he thought life in this new city and away from his abusive uncle would be kinder, he was wrong. The harshness of life on the railway platform has made him want to go back to his unloving home. “I just want to return home,” he says.
“He has given us a mobile number and asked us to contact his relatives. We will try our best to unite him with his family. In fact, most of them want to return home but do not have the money,” says Nawal Kumar Chauhan, a field supervisor with Pratidhi.
The NGO has not filed any reports against the owners of these establishments which are illegally employing children under 14.
The railway station is home to many children like Pawan. There is Chalia, 10, forced to sell toys at the station by his parents who live in Panipat, Haryana. Every morning, Chalia boarded a different train and spent the day at the New Delhi railway station, selling his toys. “These children are always at risk of being abused or kidnapped as a lot of traffickers operate around railway stations. It is important to find safe custody for them,” says Raj Mangal Prasad of Pratidhi.
Government departments, however, are yet to make any headway in this direction. Officials say that definite action will be taken only after Id.