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Children abused on railway platforms
Published on 17 Jul. 2009 11:24 PM IST
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Scores of children wash up at India’s railway platforms every day, lost, abandoned or fleeing from home. But they are treated with suspicion - sometimes even slapped and beaten - by railway police who are ignorant of laws related to juveniles. Appalled by the lack of sensitivity of railway police personnel towards these children, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is planning to write to the railway ministry suggesting legal amendments. On a visit to the busy New Delhi railway station, a team of officials of the child rights body along with this IANS correspondent found that most of the railway police personnel were unaware of the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act under whose ambit a child in need of care and protection is supposed to be brought. “I am very scared of the policemen. They slap and hit us first and then ask questions, without any fault of ours. After all the taunts, they leave us and go away,” said eight-year-old Rahim, a runaway who was loitering near the station. Some children said they were handled like criminals. According to NCPCR member Sandhya Bajaj, the Railway Act and the JJ Act should be brought together for safeguarding child rights. The JJ Act gives clear guidelines that a child who is either in conflict with the law or in need of care should be given protection and handled with a child-friendly approach. In this context, special Juvenile Justice units should be present in key places like railway stations where such children are likely to be found and in need. “At the moment the railway police are not bound by the JJ Act. The responsibility of the personnel here is to protect railway properties, but what about the children? Even if they get an abandoned child on the railway platform, they are not bound by the guidelines of the JJ Act. Therefore, if they are sensitised about the Act, things can improve a lot,” Bajaj told IANS. “In future, we can even talk about amending the Railway Act in such a way that the personnel in the railways can be held accountable in cases dealing with children,” she said. Also, it was found that there was no special Juvenile Justice unit anywhere near the railway station. Based on the visit, Bajaj plans to make a report and submit various recommendations to a number of ministries, including the railway ministry. “One of the recommendations that we would like to give to the railway ministry is to allot a space to NGOs working on child rights so that they can have direct access to these children and help them,” Bajaj said. The lack of women constables on the platforms is another factor. In the words of a Government Railway Police (GRP) official, there is only “one woman GRP officer and four Railway Protection Force (RPF) officers” in the 16 New Delhi railway station platforms. “It is generally seen that children respond better to women, especially if it is a girl child. In these cases, the children found on platforms are already traumatised and they need to be handled with care. Therefore, there is definitely a need for more women beat officers,” Bajaj told IANS. The railway police are severely understaffed. This is probably why child rights bodies like the Salaam Balak Trust say they received 381 children in a year at their contact point in the New Delhi railway station, but railway police personnel say they hardly find more than one abandoned child on a platform in a week. Pramod Niming, a woman GRP inspector at the New Delhi railway station, said her duty, among other things, was to track abandoned kids on the platform and put them in contact with the child welfare committee, take him or her for a medical test and then either send the child back home or put him or her in a shelter. “I am the only one doing this job and it does get hectic. However, I don’t find many runaway kids or those abandoned or lost at the railway station. Probably, one child in a week or 10 days,” she told IANS. She also admitted to not being much aware of the JJ Act. Bajaj said, “Based on this visit we will write a report and send all the recommendations to the ministry of women and child development and also the railway ministry. For effective implementation of laws relating to child rights and protection, all ministries should come together, even those of the railways and labour.”

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