We all are aware that children face risk all the time, whether they are with their families or living on their own. When a child is on his/her own, the vulnerabilities only increases beyond we could dare to imagine. For instance, children arriving at a railway station unaccompanied immediately faces violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse. Scavenging for scraps of food they are beaten, attacked, raped and even killed.

A child’s journey right from birth to the railway station is often filled with negative experiences such as sexual abuse, distress migration, alcoholism and violence. They may have suffered abuse – physical, emotional and sexual – or been exposed to drugs and alcohol. Having witnessed violence, neglect and aggression at home they often have significant developmental delays and attachment disorders that can manifest in a range for challenging behaviours; often anxious and distressed or may have developed anger issues and certain behaviours as a coping mechanism. Many have become reliant on substance abuse as an escape. By the time we start working with these children their lives have already been typified by rejection, neglect, judgement and apathy from the adults around them. Internalised, these feelings can result in significant levels of toxic stress that can be very damaging to their mental health.

Reaching out to these children as early as possible while they are in a moving train or after they arrive at a railway station is important for their protection, rehabilitation and preventing them from slipping in to street life. Our programme strives to reach out to them as early as possible and create safe places, people and experiences for children, which enables them to recover from the trauma of their negative experiences. The intent is to ensure that the child’s development during the recovery and rehabilitation process is replete with experiences that enables him/her to develop his/her own identity. As a result, every child’s resilience increases, and they begin to take informed decision. These decisions include reuniting with family, getting enrolled back to school and leaving the habit of sniffing glue among others. With increased resilience, these decisions are expected to be lasting as a result child continuing to grow to their full potential.

For us to achieve such an experience for children, we have codified our railway station programme model in the form of a ‘programme quality framework’. The purpose of programme quality framework is to ensure that each child, in each programme experiences dignity, control, purposefulness, togetherness rather than recreating and revisiting experiences of abuse, suffering, helplessness and alienation. We have given ourselves a set of values for us to adhere while working with children. These are centre to our work and guide us all the time. I invite you to visit our page and read our values https://railwaychildren.org.in/values/. We constantly learn from children and continuously improve our programme.

The author name is S.Navin Sellaraju,CEO Railway Children India