The Indian Railway System is one of the largest in the world, averaging over 8 billion passengers per day1. At every station, along with railway passengers, are innumerable children, many of whom appear to be homeless. And it is this appearance of homelessness that attracts organisations to come forward to rescue the children, and restore them to their families.
However, many organisations working with children, have observed that the children so rescued—as high as 50% of them—run away from their homes again. In this episode of Design Talks, Dunu Roy, founder & director of Hazards Centre, explains why this is the case.
The Voice of Children
“You should hear the horror stories,” cries Dunu. In just over two hours, Dunu paints a complete picture of the legal cross-fire in which children are caught—from a Juvenile Justice Act that places responsibility of care for children in the hands of cops, to welfare organisations returning children to abusive households.
“On one hand, they say, in the policy, that the child has the right to be heard… Does the child want to go to this home, or does the child want to go to that home, has to be heard. At the same time, the policy says, the best place for the child is with the family and in school…”
Hazards Centre, along with other organisations across India, has formed the All India Working Group on Rights of Children in Contact with Railways (AIWG-RCCR). Together, this group has spoken to 2148 children across 120 railway stations, to understand the ‘agency’ of children, and hear what they have to say.
As Dunu outlines the research methodology, I can’t help drawing parallels with Design Thinking—from being empathetic to children, and making sure the questions are such that they will understand and respond to, to the iterative nature of conducting the survey.
The group was keen to adopt technology to speed up the process of collecting information, and Ideafarms is proud to have partnered with Hazards Centre in designing and developing a solution to enable this research (read more about the tech here).
Dunu shares some of the findings of this research, which has contradicted several widely held conventions about children living in and around railway stations. For instance, about 75% of the children do have an active link with their families—either living with them, or visiting them frequently (as opposed to the belief that they have run away from their homes); and a majority of the children come to the stations in search of livelihood, and have plans for their future, which they are working towards achieving.
A more chilling reality that the research highlights is that more than half the respondents in the study said that they were harassed by institutions (like police, NGO) which are setup for their welfare & protection.
Current Challenges : An Appeal
Listen to excerpts from our conversation in this episode of Design Talks (~ 34 minutes), as Dunu talks passionately about the complex legal system impacting children; the importance of listening to what children have to say, without adding our assumptions or value judgements; and the findings that are emerging from this research.