Khushi was just 12 years old when she lost both her parents. Her happy childhood in the village of Sakri in the Bihar district of India was abruptly taken away from her. She had been enjoying school, where she was doing well, and had passed class eight. Khushi dreamt of becoming a teacher but she was forced to put aside her ambitions. Instead, as the only girl in the family, she had to drop out of school to take on all the housework for her two brothers.

They would beat her regularly. She was also sexually abused but terrified of speaking out for fear of more violence. At 13, Khushi was forced to marry a local boy. Instead of finding escape with him, her marriage brought with it more beatings and abuse.

After six months, Khushi couldn’t take it anymore and ran away with just the clothes she was wearing and 50 rupees in her pocket. She got on a bus at Samastipur and soon arrived at Darbhanga Railway station. But here she faced even greater dangers. Children struggle to earn a living begging, selling plastic bottles or cleaning trains while older predators look for vulnerable targets to attack and abuse. Girls especially are taken, exploited and forced into sex work where they are often never seen again.

Luckily, one of our outreach workers spotted Khushi sitting at platform two in an extremely distressed state, crying uncontrollably. She was overwhelmed by the noise and chaotic situation around her.

She couldn’t decide where to go and was starting to panic, as well as being hungry and scared. Our worker calmed her down and explained the risks she was facing. Khushi agreed to go with her to the shelter home at Darbhanga. Here she was finally safe.

Khushi opened up to our team and explained her situation, begging not to be sent home. We managed to refer her to the child welfare committee the same day and by nightfall she was settled in a government-run girls’ home in Muzaffarpur.

But that was just the beginning. Our shelters offer immediate care – food, clothing and safety – to vulnerable children. They can provide accommodation, education and counselling and our family support helps find children a long-term safe solution.

We continued to work with Khushi and over the following weeks established contact with her grandmother. Khushi was welcomed into her home where the teenager is now happy, settled and able to look forward to a future without fear.