A 14-year-old girl, afraid her father would beat her for watching films, ran away from her home at Malwani to the Churchgate station in January.
On May 2, she was traced by the Railway Protection Force and handed over to her family.
Not all children who leave home and land on railway platforms are as lucky.
Talaash, a project undertaken by Bal Prafulta that has a network of 49 NGOs working for child welfare in the city, carried out a study at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) in 2009 to determine the state of children at these platforms and what could be done to improve the situation.
About 30 unaccompanied children arrive at the city’s 125 stations every day. At CST alone at least seven children between the age of 10 and 20 years disembark daily and end up staying there.
The NGO members will now submit their study to the railway and police authorities to address the issue.
“The railway authorities should take up this issue as top priority because a railway station is the first place where
children land up after running from their houses,” said Santosh Shinde, Vice President of Central Child Welfare Committee.
The results of study
At LTT, the NGO members interviewed eight children who had run away from their home, three of whom were working as vendors and 27 lived or worked around the area.
At CST they interviewed 200 children out of which109 had run away from home and they found 38 who had been living at the station for a long time.
Increasing crime rate
“A major reason for the increasing juvenile crime rate is negligence by the authorities. Many runaway children commit petty crimes such as chain and bag snatching, pick pocketing, etc to earn money or survive in the city,” said Shinde.
Many gangs force juveniles (children aged between 11-18 years) to commit petty crimes.
When anti-social groups or gangs formed by older runaway children operating at terminals spot a new child, he or she is gradually involved in criminal activities.
When people who have been residing on the terminal for years spot a new child they pretend the child is related to them and make them commit crimes.
Reasons for leaving home
Most children interviewed left their homes due to poverty and to find a secure job in Mumbai. Other reasons stated were lack of attention by parents and study or peer pressure.
A blind eye
Lack of governance and ignorance about child rights is one of the main reasons for homeless children indulging in crimes.
At CST only 47 per cent of Government Railway Police and Railway Protection Force officials noticed children staying on the terminus. At the LTT, authorities claim they haven't spotted anyone. Authorities notice unaccompanied children or those involved in begging on the terminus. But very few take action.
Officials interviewed admitted to often ignoring, scolding or manhandling homeless children. Overwhelming workload was their reason for not concentrating on the issue.
“Whenever we spot an unaccompanied child we present him before the juvenile court and then give him to a shelter or children’s home. With regular and increasing patrolling, the number of children spotted has increased,” said Tukaram Chavan, commissioner of Railway police.