Approaches and strategies of working with runaway children: Case examples

Approach 1: Children have a right to a safe and happy home. Home restoration is the best intervention for runaway children.

Case example one: SATHI

Sathi has worked with separated and runaway children on railway platforms since 1992. Sathi’s objective of working with these children is to reunite them with their families. Sathi started out in Raichur (Karnataka), from where there is considerable out-migration to Mumbai, in the 1990s and developed a model that took on a railway station, worked in collaboration with local NGOs, and looked to return runaway children to their homes. It began work in eastern UP and Bihar in 2007, India’s least developed areas and from where most runaway children now originate. It currently does similar work in 15 railway stations in the country.

Key achievements of Sathi:

  • Extended its operation to 25 railway stations in nine states.
  • Home placed 22,237 children in 10 years. 80 per cent of home placed children found living with their parents in subsequent surveys.
  • Collaborated with 35 NGOs and helped them to replicate the concept of home placement. Over 50 capacity building programmes were organised in different locations to benefit the staff of collaboration NGOs.
  • Organised nearly 80 home orientation camps for habitual runaway and repeated substance abuse children. 90 per cent of enrolled children were reunited with their families after the camps.
  • Working with 10 CWCs in nine states. Activities include publishing newsletters, an awards programme for best CWC/team and home placement of children from government children’s homes.
  • Sathi has associated itself with academic institutions like NIMHANS, Bangalore, and TISS, Mumbai. Module of Home Orientation Camp was developed with the support of Dr Sekhar Sheshadri, NIMHANS. Camp was evaluated by Dr Neela Dabir, TISS.
  • Conceptualisation of Sathi’s activities has done with the support of Dr Rajshree Mahtani, TISS.
  • Strong networking with Railways, Railway Protection Force (RPF), and Government Railway Police (GRP). Because of Sathi’s intervention on railway platforms, RPF has initiated a programme called ’Bal Mitra Yojan’ to help needy children on railway platforms. RPF also issues identity cards for Sathi staff to work on railway platforms.
  • Over this period, Sathi has built up a comprehensive documentation of its activities which includes data on almost 14,000 children. Sathi also initiated a fellowship programme and research on effectiveness of rehabilitation strategies of such children. A systematic telephonic follow system is also developed for four times for each restored child.
  • Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Despande Foundation- USA, Every child-UK, TDH-Luxemburg, Railway Children-UK, Infosys Foundation and HSBS have been funding partners.

Source: 2010 proposal to PHF

Core strategies:

  • Identification of ‘separated’ children, facilitating safe and suitable transition shelter, family tracing and home restoration.
  • A specialised model of five-day ‘home orientation camps’ for supporting children to assess their personal situations and recognise the significance of home; the camp enlists children habituated to running away and to platform life, and who engage in repeated use of substances and disagree to going back home.
  • Shelter related services: Skill building of government homes staff in address- tracing and home restoration counselling with children. Additional support in organising child centred activities is also provided.
  • Collaboration with CWCs to resettle children living in government children’s homes.
  • Advocacy and awareness on the issues of separated and run away children and the possibilities of home placement.
  • Research on separated children and their rehabilitation. Follow up studies to assess the quality of home placements.
  • Capacity building programs for staff to equip them to deal with children in difficult situations.

Emerging from a comprehensive evaluation in July 2012, Sathi reorganised some of its organisational strategies and priorities to include:

  • Enhancing a focus on child counseling beyond address tracing and supporting children in dealing with trauma.
  • Work more intensively with parents and the family in understanding the home situation (which causes the children to run away) before considering restoration of the child to the same environment
  • Work with the district-level Child Welfare Committees to enhance their participation and provide a local institutional connection with the family when a child is restored.
  • Work with the community within which the child is restored to ensure that the family of a runaway child and the child itself gets the community support when restored.
  • Also build focus on the children who could not be restored for whatever reasons, and plan a mechanism to facilitate their rehabilitation – whether it was from the use of drugs or alcohol or whether they were involved with theft on trains or any other disastrous situation the child is found to be in.
  • Explore the possibility of working with the government/police/missing  children’s unit in government to set in process the creation of an internet based database which could simplify the search for children.

Case example two: SOS Children’s Villages

SOS Children’s Villages is an independent, non-governmental, social development organisation that has provided family-based care for children in India since 1964. It advocates the concerns, rights and needs of children. More than 6,000 children and young people live in 33 SOS Children’s Villages and 27 SOS youth facilities in the country.

Key programme of SOS Children’s Villages:

Family Based Care (FBC)

  • The mother: Each child has a caring parent
  • Brothers and sisters: Family ties grow naturally
  • The house: Each family creates its own home
  • The village: The SOS family is a part of the community

Family Strengthening Programme (FSP)

It works with the concerned communities and with local partners to support disadvantaged and “at risk” families based on local circumstances. FSPs are divided into three phases:

  • Short term support
  • Mid-term support
  • Long term support

Source: SOS Children’s Villages website

At SOS Children’s Villages, it is believed that every child should grow up in a strong family environment, so SOS work helps families to create a loving, caring home. Their work focuses on strengthening families, helping them to stay together during difficult times and providing the best care possible to their children. The needs of a family can be varied. SOS Children’s Village experts work with families to help them develop a wide range of skills, including:

  • Household budget planning
  • Searching for employment and earning a living
  • Bonding with a child or young person and learning to create a stable family life at home

In cases where it is not possible for a child to stay in the family, SOS finds tailor-made solutions that respond to each situation. SOS Children’s Villages is the only organisation of global impact that provides direct care to children who can no longer stay with their families. SOS supports families, communities, local and state governments to develop the attitudes, skills, resources, and structures to protect and care for the child.

SOS Children’s Villages of India has set up kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, professional institutes and vocational training centres. These educational institutions not only cater to children and youngsters under SOS‘s care but also reach out to children in need from the neighbourhood communities.

Approach 2: Protection and Rehabilitation is an entitlement of children. Runaway girl children have special vulnerabilities.

Case example one: NIWCYD

National Institute of Women Child & Youth Development (NIWCYD) has worked for marginalised communities since 1982. It reaches around 1500 tribal and rural pockets, and 80 urban slums, addressing the development concerns of poor families through the creation of Sangathans and facilitating demand for their rights. Since 2001, it has organised the BACHPAN project in Madhya Pradesh, which has evolved as a resource centre on child rights. As part of this, the ’Support to girl children in need of care and protection’ project has been working in three railway platform settings (Itarsi, Bhopal and Katni) and the tribal concentrated district of Umariya, with a vision to create a protective environment and spaces for neglected girls, towards access of their rights, leading to their self sustainable development through learning and action.

Achievements of NIWCYD in the last three years:

  • Establishment of CWC and SJPU in three districts of MP.
  • All three CWCs and SJPU are keenly involved in identification, placement and providing support to the girl children. NIWCYD is running an educational- vocational training centre along with CWC & SJPU.
  • NIWCYD has assisted CWCs, transition homes and GRP and RPF in setting up robust case documentation processes including health, education and counselling documents.
  • Linkages with Sarva shiksha abhiyan to establish a human development centre for children in the Itarsi home.
  • Over 200 girl children home placed and over 100 girls and boys linked with institutions.
  • Children’s vulnerability issues as child labour on platforms also raised and addressed through community engagement and educational options.
  • Bal adhikar mitra groups mobilised in three districts mobilising over 85 members raising pertinent issues of children’s rights.

Source: Project reports to PHF

Core strategies:

  • Advocate for and support the creation of a safe, sensitive and creative space as a short-stay shelter to provide immediate support to the children with the support of local administration.
  • Work with the CWCs to prepare and support the children to return back home where possible.
  • Create a learning and child friendly environment in JJ girl’s institutions and mobilise staff participation in processes.
  • Build the alliance with organisations to emerge as a vigilance, response and advocacy group on issues of child protection in the form of bal adhikar mitras.
  • Bridge the resource pool for development of infrastructure in institutions from government and civil society organisations.
  • Develop capacities of girls living in short-stay or institutional care or on the platforms through skills training and support to resume education.
  • Organise de-addiction processes with the girls continuing to live on platforms.
  • Activating the various state mechanisms under the Integrated Child Protection scheme and building proactive engagement of diverse stakeholders in the protection of runaway girls through qualitative service delivery in care settings and protection in vulnerable settings.
  • Developing a state-wide alliance of girls, starting with city and regional fora. Encourage children’s expression through the publication of a quarterly magazine, Pankhodi.

Case example two: SALAAM BAALAK TRUST

Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) grew out of Nukkad, a street-based intervention programme that began working with street children in and around New Delhi railway station in 1987. After the success of Mira Nair’s film ‘Salaam Bombay’ in 1988, the Salaam Baalak Trust was established to help promote such work, and took over Nukkad’s activities a couple of years later. Salaam Baalak Trust is dedicated to the care and protection of neglected street children, reaching out to them on railway platforms, at crowded bus stops, and in the by lanes around temples. Their comprehensive services include five long-term full-care residential facilities, with one being exclusively for girls, 15 ongoing contact point programmes, and an emergency telephone help line for children in distress.

Key achievements of Salaam Baalak Trust:

‘In a 22-year journey, the organisation has already supported more than 50,000 children from all over the country and abroad. Children from early batches have returned to work with the organisation and have joined the organisation as employees. One group of SBT boys have taken our mission one step forward through Lakshya- Badhte Kadam or Goal Forward Step. This is a peer-run community initiative that supports 50 street children with food, education and vocational training. Children, who have left SBT and gone on to establish meaningful lives for themselves, embrace a wide variety of jobs and vocations. Our roots in the performing arts have enabled some to become highly regarded freelance photographers, dancers, choreographers, film makers, actors, puppeteers, and theatre directors. Others have been absorbed into steady jobs with companies such as Matrix, Café Coffee Day, Benetton, Pizza Hut, Miditech, DS Constructions (Toll Plaza), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and Teamwork Productions.’

  • In 2011-12, CHILDLINE-SBT intervened with 662 children, out of which 269 were girls. Two hundred and sixty of them were produced to Child Welfare Committees. 85 children (13 girls) were restored to their families. Eighteen children were hospitalised and one child was operated.
  • CHILDLINE (SBT) rescued 58 children through two major rescue operations in Kamla Market area (20), Nabi Karim area (28) and others. 46 rescued children were declared as bonded labour and provided release certificate by SDM. It succeeded in getting compensation of Rs. 82,400 for a girl of Jharkhand.
  • CHILDLINE (SBT) is now a member of child labour district task force as per the judgment of Delhi High Court and action plan prepared by NCPCR.
  • CHILDLINE, Delhi works in close cooperation with District Labour Department, Railways, CWCs, and other local NGOs working on children’s issues.
  • Source: Organisational annual report 2011-12

Core strategies/interventions:

  • Salaam Baalak Trust has five full-care residential programmes: Aasra, Apna Ghar and DMRC are homes for boys, and Rose Home and Arushi for girls. A sense of security – be it a safe sleeping place, a small cupboard to store their personal belongings, a somewhat set pattern to life (such as regulated timings for food, study, play, roll call and going to bed) gives the children an environment in which they can be creative and grow naturally, but also instills in them the idea of discipline and hard work to achieve their dreams.
  • The trust uses various schemes of educational intervention, both formal and non-formal. Wherever possible, the objective is to bring children into mainstream education, variously engaging with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), formal schools, non-formal education, and bridge courses. Care is taken to couple this with books, additional materials, clean uniforms and provision of balanced diet and nutritious food.
  • SBT also runs the Chalta Firta School – a mobile bus programme reaching out to vulnerable communities towards fulfillment of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
  • Since 2009, SBT has served as one of the nodal agencies for Delhi CHILDLINE. Salaam Baalak Trust handles the largest number of calls to the service, and has received a total of over 17,000 calls. The service provides immediate assistance to callers, including medical assistance and emotional counseling.
  • For all children over 15 years of age, options for taking up some form of vocational training are opened up. Some of the trades include: candle making, tailoring, electrician, motor mechanic, cooking, photography, computer, driving etc. Training in crafts, music, needlecraft, handicraft etc are also made available.
  • Recreation and talent development is considered central to children’s all round development. Boys and girls at the shelters learn dance and music from renowned artists. Annual excursions and tours are organised for children for at least 10 days to hill stations and tourist spots around the country. Weekly sightseeing, outings, and movie screenings are also done for the children.
  • SBT has a full-time sports coordinator facilitating training in sports such as cricket, soccer and squash. Children also attend swimming and karate classes and participate in various local and inter-organisational games and sports competitions.
  • Regular medical checkups of the children are done at the shelters. Individual health cards are maintained for each child. A full-time doctor works with SBT while other empanelled specialists support on call.
  • The mental health programme encompasses a preventive programme that  works through the formation of groups and the early identification of casesin order to help the children while going through the transition or stressful  phases. This programme also attempts to train and supervise the staff at Salaam Baalak Trust and its various centres to enhance their counselling skills and mental health education in order to enable them to identify cases, refer them, intervene in a suitable approach and then document those cases.
  • SBT has placed great importance on one of the missing links of children in care: a process of graduation as they turn 18. SBT assists children to find suitable employment. The trust supports promising candidates by providing small loans in order to help establish them in small-scale businesses or jobs. SBT provides support in finding a place to live for the children placed in jobs and supports them with all their expenses for three months, and further maintains contact with these young adults to ensure that they find stability, and then growth, in their work

Case example three: CHETNA

CHETNA is an NGO working towards the empowerment of street and working children using a participatory approach. CHETNA stands for ‘Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action’. It strives to create an accepting and respectful environment for all children, especially those who do not have the privilege of growing up in a loving family or with suitable carers. It was founded in early 2002 and is registered under the Indian Public Charitable Trust Act. CHETNA’s core interventions are by way of provision of education, counselling, recreational activities, and a framework to get organised.

Key achievements of CHETNA:

  • 552 children have directly benefitted from the dreams on wheels project, which works with platform children. They have been reunited with their families, sent to shelter homes, or seek and find regular support at the contact points.
  • As part of the substance abuse elimination work at Nizamuddin  train station in New Delhi, 40 out of about 100 young children are in touch with the clinical psychologist and are beginning to get into a therapeutic process.
  • 581 students attend the non-formal education programme regularly, taking full advantage of the programme. An additional 469 join in occasionally, benefitting more indirectly. About half of all beneficiaries are girls, who are in a particularly difficult situation due to sexist prejudice and oppression.
  • In Dehradun, the project directly benefits 295 children, whilst 220 are indirect beneficiaries.

Emergency medical aid has been provided in over 200 cases. Moreover, two children, one of whom is blind, could be placed in shelter homes.

1250 families from six parts of Delhi took part in an initial study regarding the perception of those affected by birth registration  difficulties, revealing significant information as to why problems exist,what their consequences are, and how they can be tackled. The shocking fact was exposed that only 14 per cent (of these, 56 per cent  M / 44 per cent F) of the total children surveyed in the national capital have their birth certificates.

  • 200 children were helped to get admitted to formal school, about half of them in Delhi.
  • From 2003 to 2009, a total of 186 students pursued education through NIOS with CHETNA’s assistance.

Source: CHETNA website


  • To identify, rescue and rehabilitate street and working children living on the railway platforms, trains, or near railway stations through family reunification, education, recreation, health and other development opportunities. This intervention covers the large area of railway stations, their platforms and surrounding communities all the way from Agra to Gwalior. Contact points have been established at 12 different locations in this corridor.
  • To provide good quality education to children who cannot attend formal education due to work responsibilities. The majority of kids in south, east and west Delhi is involved in some kind of labour, be it rag picking, carpentry work, loading/unloading, or helping out at eating establishments. At over 25 contact points, children can come and attend classes, besides being given the opportunity to relax and play, making for a child-friendly blend of education and recreation. This way, they can acquire reading and writing skills in Hindi and English, and learn and practice basic maths.
  • The same project is also run in the vulnerable areas of Dehradun city.
  • CHETNA is an official affiliate of NIOS and runs one NIOS centre in South Delhi, where children can take test papers and qualify for valid reports. In a three-level open basic education programme, instruction is  offered that equals that given in third, fourth, and fifth standards of formal schools, respectively.
  • To develop an intervention model to rehabilitate children abusing substances and advocate for the protection of children from abusing substances. Regular counseling and therapy sessions (both with individuals and groups) are offered at select contact points in Delhi. Wherever it is in the child’s best interest, she or he is sent to a shelter home or the rehabilitation center of AIIMS (the All India Institute of Medical Sciences).
  • The organisation has also run drives towards universal birth registration for children from marginalised communities in Delhi and Dehradun.

Case example four: TAABAR

Taabar means ‘small and loving children’ in the local dialect. Taabar is a Jaipur-based non-governmental organisation. It was established in 2007 with the aim of helping and supporting children in difficult circumstances, especially runaway, orphans and street children in Jaipur. It supports and provides community-based rehabilitation for orphans, runaway, street children, slum children, and misguided youth through its various programmes.

Repatriation details:

Between January 2008 and June 2009, a total of 110 were repatriated/rescued from different places in India, including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Guja


  • ‘Bal Basera’ is a shelter home for homeless youngsters. It provides an immediate shelter for them until their repatriation and rehabilitation. It is  strategically set up in collaboration with the Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC), the latter offering space and Taabar running the centre. The home is situated just next to Jaipur railway station and primarily functions as a transit home for boys hosting a maximum of 15 boys at one time. Besides ensuring care and protection, Bal Basera also offers psychosocial counselling, vocational trainings and life skills education along with literacy and support in enrolment into schools. The home regularly organises exposure visits and picnics and art and craft workshops for recreation and talent development.
  • ‘Ghar Vaapasi’ – Outreach workers and counsellors contact the newly arriving children on the railway stations and bus stands. They track the children who are missing, tricked and brought to the city. After identification and counselling, they are provided transit support services and supported for restoration back to their families if they so desire. If children are not ready for restoration they are referred to the Bal Basera transit home or others services.
  • Taabar mobile clinic – Hazardous and unprotected environment of working and living increases their susceptibility to grave diseases including tuberculosis, asthma, hepatitis, jaundice, malaria, respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS etc. The Taabar mobile clinic offers counselling, health and medical services to children in diverse settings. On a daily basis, the mobile clinic goes to two different places and spends two hours at each place. These places have been identified on the basis of surveys and requirements of street children there.
  • Migrant workers information centre – the migrant workers information centre offers information, counselling and referral services about STIs and HIV/AIDS to young people who come from remote rural areas in search of work to Jaipur.
  • Advocacy – Taabar has been actively involved in advocating multidisciplinary issues related to street children. The organisation is raising the problems street children face at their living and workplaces, and in public areas. The efforts are being made to draw the attention of the government, civil society, policy makers and other influencers and stake holders towards the negligence of the rights of the children.

Case example five: RAILWAY CHILDREN

Railway Children is an international charity with a vision of a ‘world of protection and opportunity for children living alone and at risk on the streets’. 24 Lost Childhoods: A study on platform children and other children in distress

Safe Spaces:

Safe Spaces is an initiative at the Charbagh station, the main railway station in Lucknow, which pilots a pioneering ‘child-friendly’ station initiative that promotes proactive care and protection for all children arriving alone. A ‘Child Protection Booth’, manned by project staff and members of the Railway Protection Force, ensures that no unaccompanied child is left alone and that all children have access to a safe place. The assistance available to children is publicised by station announcements and displays.

It is estimated that 12 million children live on the streets of India, with around 120,000 arriving on platforms every year. In simple terms, a child arrives alone on a railway platform every five minutes.

  • Huge numbers of children running away from abuse, violence and poverty at home use India’s extensive railway network to get to the cities. As a result, thousands of children who arrive at railway stations dreaming of adventure and a better life instead end up living on railway platforms. Many children resort to drugs and substance abuse to get through the day.
  • A child arrives alone on a railway platform in India every five minutes. Ragged, hungry children begging for survival is such a common sight at India’s major stations that it has become ‘normal’. People no longer see these children.

In response to this large and alarming situation of vulnerability, Railway Children has initiated work which focuses on:

  • Creation of safe spaces, where children and young people alone and at risk on the streets can access food, medical attention, emotional and psychological support, and education. Created through a range of partnerships, safe spaces are drop-in centres located on or near the railway platforms where children can access these essentials in a safe space. Drop-in centres also offer vocational training to children and assist young people to secure jobs which help them leave street life. Counselling sessions give children the opportunity to explore their experiences through music, dance and art. They can address their emotions and prepare for a return to family life. With the child’s participation, they begin the process of reuniting them with their family by creating an individual child care plan.
  • Street Work: When children arrive on the streets, reaching them at the earliest opportunity is crucial to protecting them from the many risks of the environment they are about to enter. Railway Children’s street work strategy in India is focused intensively around railway platforms as large numbers of children arrive at railway stations, some having travelled long distances. Street workers talk to children to gain their trust and encourage them to choose an alternative to living on the platforms. They also work with police, vendors on the platforms, railway staff and older street children to teach them how to help vulnerable children arriving alone instead of seeing them as criminals or a nuisance.
  • Working with government homes: Railway Children, through its network of partners, works with government and observation homes in India to ensure children are given the opportunity to safely return to their families, or to live in a child-friendly environment. The interventions include training of government home staff to create a child-friendly environment, and equip them with the knowledge to counsel children and trace addresses.
  • Reuniting families: When a child wants to return home it is crucial to establish whether or not the family is willing and able to care for him. Sometimes it is difficult to trace a child’s family because this is done with the support of various stakeholders. There is rigorous follow up post home restoration.
  • Changing perception: Because children living alone on the streets are seen begging, loitering and becoming involved in drugs and crime, local people often perceive them as a problem and a nuisance rather than as vulnerable children who are exposed to abuse, violence and exploitation. Changing the way people see them is crucial to protect children from the dangers of the streets. Our work raises awareness of child rights with vendors, rickshaw pullers and porters, encouraging them to consider child protection issues and to refer children to our projects. The projects also work with police to help children living alone and at risk by providing spaces for shelters in and around the stations. Some of the current active projects work in rural and urban areas of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to prevent the large numbers of children known to leave their families in those areas. They make communities aware of child rights issues and engage them in child protection activities, to create a support network for children and families.

Case example six: CINI

The Child In Need Institute (CINI), Kolkata is recognised as a leading Indian NGO in the field of sustainable development in nutrition, health and education.

Primary beneficiaries of CINI ASHA programme:

  • Street children
  • Children living in slums and squatter colonies
  • Children of sex workers
    Slum dwellers

CINI ASHA: Key strategies:

  • Temporary shelters to help them to reunite with their families, if possible. If not, to reintegrate them with mainstream society
  • In partnership with the government CINI provides a response team in West Bengal for calls to CHILDLINE, a 24 hour free telephone helpline
  • This service is used by adults and the police to report instances of child abuse, child labour and child trafficking as also by children themselves

CINI Asha’s is the urban unit of CINI. Its mission consists of improving the quality of life of the urban disadvantaged population and protecting the rights of the child through education, health and social mobilisation. It believes in participation and progress as provided for in the ‘Convention of Rights of the Child’. Their services are concentrated in the red light areas and around train stations. In these locations, CINI runs a number of temporary shelters, both on a drop in basis and as a half way house for children in trouble.

Child protection strategies

  1. Drop-in/night shelters: This shelter is in the vicinity of the train stations and red light area of Kolkata that are unsafe for children. Children are provided with:
    1. Basic security
    2. Medical aid
    3. Two meals (breakfast and lunch)
    4. Individual and group counseling sessions
    5. Creative activities
    6. Basic primary education
    7. Contact with their parents
  2. Halfway houses: This is for children without parents, street children and children of sex workers, children with a single parent and children with a very low socio-economic background. This is a shelter where the children permanently stay between six months and one year. They get training for primary school, and are also provided food and medical assistance, and participate in creative activities. After this period, some return to their families and to a regular school.
  3. Non-residential camp: This is for children who are not living on the streets but with their family. They start working at a very young age in factories or in homes for very low wages and in poor conditions. They do not go to school. In the non-residential camp, for about one year, they are trained to join regular schools. Their parents are counseled about the importance of proper education and training.

Case example seven: KARM MARG

Karm Marg, means ‘path of work and action’ and was started in February 1997. The driving force behind Karm Marg’s functioning has been the desire to be self-sustaining without regular dependence on external support. This extends to their internal functioning as also to the people Karm Marg supports as an organisation.

Key activities of Karm Marg:

  • Karm Gaon
  • Education
  • Counselling and health care
  • Sports and fitness
  • Visual and performing arts
  • Vocational training and income generation

Sugandh – Vocational training project:

The current programs under this are:

  1. Paper craft
  2. Stitching
  3. Candle making
  4. Carpentry
  5. Metalwork
  6. Silk-screen printing
  7. Clay modeling and papier-mâché

Jugaad – Income generation project:

Key skills:

  • Making products out of waste
  • Running income generation programmes

The primary activity of Karm Marg has been providing a home for children and youth who need urgently and desperately need a safe shelter. The home provides shelter, care, medical support and education to the children.

The focus groups of Karm Marg are disadvantaged children, young adults and economically backward rural women from villages near the campus. Both groups receive vocational training before joining the production process. Eventually, the products made by these people are sold under the brand Jugaad. It’s worth noting that most of the Jugaad products utilise as much recycled and reused raw material as possible.

In addition, Karm Marg imparts training in mainstream education, medical care, counselling, health and hygiene advocacy, sports, visual and  performing parts – all of which we believe are critical to the holistic growth of young adults.

Karm Marg also conducts on-demand workshops with groups working on similar focus areas and shares with them their skills. These workshops are uniquely designed for the needs of the group.

Case example eight: PLATFORM KIDS

Platform Kids was established by a group of western Australians deeply concerned about the plight of children worldwide. It upholds the rights of children everywhere to the basic needs of love, shelter, nourishment, health, education, safety and freedom from exploitation. Their programme focus is on rescuing and rehabilitating homeless children found begging on railway stations in Andhra Pradesh, India. They also devise fund raising activities that will ensure a steady flow of cash into the programme.

Programmes of Platform Kids:

  • Shelter and girls’ home – The Platform Children’s Society runs a shelter in a house near the station at Kothavalasa. It is staffed by a house mother, a supervisor and an ‘ex-platform kid’ who regularly travels on trains between Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram to befriend, counsel and win the trust of platform children and welcome them to the centre where they are free to come and go for cleanups, medicines and food.
  • Rural property – The Platform Children’s Society wholly owns its headquarters, a rural property at Kantakapalli, 30km from Visakhapatnam. ‘Charminar’, the home constructed here, serves as a kitchen and accommodates two staff members, who cook, clean, supervise laundry and administer medicine as required. Sick children in need of medical help can stay here.

The platform children of India form a sub-culture within the confusion and complexity of mainstream Indian society. Lost, unwanted, orphaned, outcast and handicapped kids gravitate to the stations from drought-stricken villages and squalid urban slums. To simply survive, they become trapped in a cycle of begging and scavenging from which few escape.

Case example nine: UDAYAN CARE

‘Udayan’, in Sanskrit, means eternal sunrise. Registered in 1994 as a Public Charitable Trust, Udayan Care works to empower vulnerable children, women and youth in seven states of India. Udayan Care believes all individuals have the right to develop their full potential and has over the last 17 years enabled the most vulnerable sections of underprivileged communities to live in dignity and self-reliance.

Key programmes of Udayan Care:

  • Udayan Ghars (Homes)
  • Udayan After-Care programme
  • Udayan Shalini-Fellowships (USF) – Educating and nurturing young girls towards a life of economic independence and dignity

Udayan’s Care Information Technology and Vocational Training Centres (IT&VT) bring technology and vocational choices closer to the underserved, improving livelihood opportunities. The IT&VT model is designed with the purpose of bridging the technological divide and bringing IT and vocational training closer to youth from low resource settings, thus enabling them to improve employability.

The Big Friend Little Friend programme enables social integration of adolescents living in Delhi slums by pairing these Little Friends with a Big Friend of the same gender in a bond of friendship.

Approach 3: Paradigm shift required from welfare to development, from needs to rights and from institutional to non-institutional care when dealing with children in difficult circumstances.

The primary focus needs to be on child participation.

Case example ten: BUTTERFLIES

Butterflies is a registered voluntary organisation working with street and working children in Delhi since 1989. Its core belief is that “every child has a right to a full-fledged childhood where s(he) can have protection, respect, opportunities and participation in his/her growth and development.” Rights of street and working children are no exception. Butterflies is committed to a non-institutional approach, follows principles of democracy and promotes children’s participation in decision making as part of its programme planning, monitoring and evaluation. Butterflies is in contact with more than 1500 street and working children on a regular basis through 12 contact points in Delhi and has earned recognition worldwide for its innovative, realistic and relevant programmes. Butterflies also works with 6000 children in tsunami affected villages of the Andaman Nicobar Islands.

Key achievements of Butterflies:

  • Skill and enterprise building initiative with a focus on offering subsidised quality food to street and working children: Butterflies’ community kitchen project involves 12 adolescents from the street who have received intensive training in cooking, catering, packaging and business management from training institutes of national repute. The community kitchen experience equips them for a career in the hospitality industry or setting up an enterprise. The community kitchen offers subsidised and healthy food to a large number of street children through outlets in strategic locations and catering supplies to the night shelters.
  • Butterflies’ Resilience Centre serves as a transit facility for children who need immediate shelter, medical attention/care, and legal help and counseling. Any child in distress or feeling a transgression of his/her rights can walk in or call at the center and seek help. Children stay at the centre and have access to educational and recreational activities during the day. In case of long term stay, counseling and trauma redressal support, and linkage to education are also provided. They are supported in family tracing and home restoration or connected with NGO or government children’s institution for long-term rehabilitation. Some children also decide to go back to the streets while remaining in touch with Butterflies, staying in the night shelter, working and studying at the same time.

Source: Butterflies website

Core strategies/interventions:

  • Butterflies implements a non-formal education programme with an inclusive and participatory curriculum focused on life skills and learning reading, writing, arithmetic and art work. Trained teacher-facilitators are available at all times and classes are conducted at street corners, in parks and at vegetable markets. When children reach a certain level of educational achievement they are coached to undertake national exams. Coaching classes are held for those children who go to formal schools in the night shelters.
  • In 2008, Butterflies started a mobile education programme called Chalta Firta School mobile learning centre and Chalo School Aaya (a life skills focused mobile education and research centre) to reach education to the children’s doorsteps( who were unable to get admissions to regular primary schools) as part of a unique initiative of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
  • Butterflies Alternate Media gives children the space to create their very own media that gives expression to the unheard voices of children. The media project provides opportunities for children to train and to participate in the production of their own newspaper, radio programmes and theatre.
  • Butterflies has been the South Delhi collaborative agency of CHILDLINE  since 1998, running a 24-hour telephone helpline service for children in need of special care and protection. Any child/concerned adult can dial the toll free number 1098 to access its services.
  • Butterflies runs three night shelters in Delhi located at Fatehpuri, Nizamuddin Dargah, and Ashram. Apart from providing a safe place to sleep, it also has facilities such as lockers and toilets and services such as  Alternate Education, the Children’s Development Bank, Alternate Media,and computer training for the street and working children.
  • The Night Reach Intervention ensures night presence in vulnerable areas through visiting places where children sleep or work, interacting with them and others, such as shop owners and police. It also deals with emergencies such as police atrocity, medical emergency and others.
  • Since 1989, the Butterflies health programme has provided both curative and preventive treatment accessible to the children directly on the street. As an empowering intervention, the programme has established a cadre of child health educators who volunteer to provide care and support. The unique health cooperative of the children is a collective for mutual support, common health investment and prevention.
  • In 2007, Butterflies initiated Health Post, which is primarily a treatment centre as well as a convalescence place with beds available for street and working children who although discharged from hospitals still require medical care and assistance. Strategically located near the New Delhi railway station, which is one of our contact points, the Health Post also provides counselling services to children.
  • The Children’s collective, or Bal Sabha, is a collective of street children which allows them to take part in decision making and planning.

Butterflies firmly believes in a non-institutional approach as it believes that long term institutionalisation may result in the following:

  • Emotional deprivation
  • Separation anxiety
  • Maternal deprivation
  • Anonymity and lack of personal attention
  • Physical abuse and trauma
  • Low self esteem
  • Interpersonal relationship problem
  • Segregation and isolation from society
  • Failure to trust
  • Difficulty in mainstreaming and adjusting in society
  • Excessive routinisation and regimentation
  • Development delays

A child below 18 years of age living in a residential institution needs care and protection. Therefore, institutions for children are required to function as substitute families, and provide for the child’s not just physical well-being but also take care of the child’s emotional and developmental needs. However there has been an alarming increase in the number of cases of physical and sexual abuse in institutions. In many cases, it is the ‘caregivers’ who are the abusers1. Several cases go unreported and no disciplinary action is taken against the perpetrators of the crime. The abuse can range from corporal punishment such as beating, caning and physical assault to deprivation of food, using abusive language, passing sexually abusive remarks, physical touching, molestation and rape. Improving the quality of child care in residential institutions and shelters is a major challenge.

Given the fact that the condition of a large number of residential institutions is not a viable alternative to the life on the street or the platform, it may be argued that there is an urgent need for quick identification of runaway, abandoned, neglected and vulnerable children who are often found around places where they are particularly exposed to abuse and exploitation, such as railway stations and traffic junctions. Their vulnerability increases due to a lack of support structures – family or otherwise. Proper identification, provision of care and support, and a safe place is vital for them. These children, under the JJ Act, are recognised as children in need of care and attention which they should be given. This is usually achieved by producing them before CWC and ensuring care in the concerned ‘homes’. In the absence of government homes appropriate NGOs with homes are requested for support. However, lack of funds and delayed response to individual identification of vulnerable children most often lead to children being in an unsafe and abusive environment for longer than they should be. Very often, because these children were “brave enough” or were driven to the point where they were left with no option but to abandon their dysfunctional and uncaring homes, the unsafe environment also appears attractive. They find ways of adjusting to their new surroundings and become a part of existing networks. In the process, they keep getting more entangled into a web of drug and sexual abuse and a state of temporary highs and threatening lows. If a child has spent more than three to six months at the platform or on the street, it is difficult to repatriate them with their families. Some NGOs have successfully managed to engage with these children and have helped them live a life of dignity and safety; others, however, face a rather grim and often forbidding future.

Most runaway children escape from a set of shared rural predicaments generated by interwoven histories of industry, empire, and urban growth or, rather, they flee from emotional and domestic predicaments inflected b y these historical formations2. Nowadays, violence resulting from the uprising of Maoists – the so-called Naxalites – and corruption in state governments make life even more precarious, while unpredictable new monsoon patterns destabilize crops and increase flooding. Most men are gone for at least half the year for city jobs, and domestic violence is widespread. In the face of such aimlessness, children leave home with neither word nor permission.

Poor but railway-dense states like Bihar have stations in or near almost every village; density of railway networks and frequency of railway movement in and out of a village is a strong predictor for running away. It is at a very young age that many families socialise their children to the rite of working and selling goods like tea, refilled water bottles, and trinkets at such stations. Their exposure to railway space begins very early and the notion of its potential for movement is easily naturalised. The web of railway economies extends right into the village, where gangs further recruit children to work in the stations. And, as villagers have characterised it, children move slowly away from home and into railway space. Thus, even running away may be a process more gradual than one might assume[23. Ibid].

The current scenario is marked by lack of inter-state cooperation often due to the absence of an integrated country-wide database for missing children. The inability of the source of the journey and destination CWCs to communicate with each other very often comes in the way of effective rehabilitation. If a child is reported lost in one state but has been trafficked to another state, there is no mechanism to ensure that the child will be searched countrywide. Due to the absence of adequate counselling of parents, extended families and a peer group, the act of repatriation ends up putting children back into the same situation that they ran away from in the first place. Often children then move to another destination, forced to become ‘frequent’ runaway children.

It is imperative that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) becomes an effective tool for child rights and not simply a declaration of intention.

The paradigm shifts from:

Welfare                  →   Developmental
Needs                      →  Rights
Institutional care  →  Non-Institutional care

represent significant changes in the nature of intervention for ‘Children in Need of Care and Protection’ (CNCP)3 The practice so far has been to concentrate on rehabilitation of abandoned and destitute children through institutional care which is a definite requirement for some children. However, it is fairly clear that the emphasis in the future should be on improving the quality of child care and facilities provided in residential institutions, both government and NGO run, and regular monitoring of camps, homes, resilience centers, and night shelters while ensuring participation of children at every stage of decision making that will impact them. Simultaneously developing family based alternatives with an aim to prevent children from leaving their homes, for instance through family counselling and the development of a vigilant group of community gatekeepers, would go a long way in making the process of repatriation of runaway children truly successful.

As Khushboo Jain rightly says: “We’re a society based on hierarchies, these young people (on the streets) are dynamic. They’ve taken control of their lives. But we don’t want people to come up. And if they do, we try to subjugate them in any way possible.”[25. › Home › Regions › Asia-Pacific › India].

Poor, addicted to drugs, and living on the street, these children illustrate the disturbing dark side of India’s so-called demographic dividend, which economists predict will help this country surpass China as the world’s manufacturing hub by 2020. Although the economic boom is making more people rich, rising inequality, poor education and persistent unemployment have helped prompt a steady increase in juvenile crime leading to a more unjust, undemocratic and increasingly dangerous society.


  • 1 Mehta, Neelima, Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System. Childline India Foundation. April, 2008
  • 2 Steinberg, Jonah, Runaway Train: Railway Children and Normative Spatialities in India. 2011
  • 3 Mehta, Neelima, Child Protection and Juvenile Justice System. Childline India Foundation. April, 2008