A southbound train pulls up to the platform at one of India’s busiest train stations. Travelers pour out of the train doors and shuffle onto the platform to continue to their next destination. Four feet below the moving sea of travelers, children lay sleeping on the platform. Other children scurry after this sea, working as carriers to earn a few rupees.
In India, the number of children who call the bustling train stations their home increased by almost 120,000 each year. These children, frequently abandoned by family members or runaways, congregate at the country’s stations to find protection in numbers. Yet, even among their peers, these railway children are still vulnerable to adults who prey off their innocence. Female railway children are often victims of predatory behavior, such as trafficking and physical abuse. Girls do no last long in this difficult environment; some are carted away within moments of arriving at the station.
Kajal was only six years old when her grandmother left her and her sister at the Old Delhi Railway Station. Her sister was quickly sold off to someone, leaving a young Kajal alone. Like the other railway children before her, Kajal slept on the station platforms and worked as a carrier to earn a few rupees.
One day, Sandhya Madam, a PCI (Project Concern International) staff member, came across Kajal at the Old Delhi Railway Station. Sandhya brought Kajal to a nearby drop-in center run by PCI. These centers provide a safe space for vulnerable railway children, providing meals, educational support, and counseling. Initially, Kajal was very resistant to the center’s help, frequently leaving to go back to the familiarity of the train station.
Over time, Kajal warmed to the employees at the Red Fort drop-in center, opening up whenever she had the opportunity to share her love for dancing. Now Kajal feels safe among her peers as she has a chance to reclaim her childhood.
PCI’s Children and Youth Legacy Programs in India provide services to children and youth through two drop-in centers and a vocational training center, which are located in high-risk neighborhoods throughout Delhi. Through tailored vocational training programs, apprenticeships, and job placement, PCI helps to create employment opportunities for about 700 young women each year who attend the vocational training center.