New Delhi: The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry has found a new route to tackle the problem of runaway children, most of whom take trains to end up in big cities, and has sought Railways' support in this regard.
WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi said travelling ticket examiners (TTEs) have to be more vigilant as these children leave homes and take trains to reach major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi.
"After all, these children are mostly above eight years and they come by trains. How is it possible that the TTEs do not notice a ticket-less traveller, a child roaming around the coach?After all, a child is not a luggage nor does he hide under the seat?" she asked.
Referring to a recent report which states that as many as 700 runaway children lands in Delhi stations every month, she said, adding "this is an epidemic".
The minister has, in a recent meeting, asked the Railway authorities to set up public call offices (PCOs) at railway stations so that these children can contact child helpline number 1098 in time of distress.
"We have requested the Railways to set up PCOs as there is none left at stations now. So, even when a child wants to call on the helpline number 1098, he is helpless... Posters containing the helpline number are all there at railway stations," she told PTI.
Gandhi said her ministry will also deploy its own teams to track down such children. Though there are non-governmental organisations working on the field, a large number of children remains untraceable.
"These children run away from homes at slightest provocations. They take trains to go to Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Once they reach these major cities they are at high risk of abuse like drug addictions, sexual abuse, thefts and odd jobs. They also get trafficked," the minister said.
At least 70,000-120,000 children arrive in 50 main railway stations across the country every year, according to the book 'Rescuing Railway Children: Reuniting families from India's railway platforms', released in June.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, almost 60,000 children were reported missing in 2011. A report by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) says nearly 11 children go missing every hour, and at least four of them are never found.
According to BBA, the number of missing children could be as high as 90,000 per year.