For India's railway children, a dangerous life by the tracks

Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:58am EST
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By Angus MacSwan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The young boys huddled over a fire between two tracks just beyond the platforms of New Delhi railway station, oblivious to the trains rolling past. They were trying to boil some water to make tea.

One, a grime-encrusted urchin wearing a filthy baseball cap at a jaunty angle, said this was their home. He had run away after his mother died and he could take no more beatings from his alcoholic father.

The nine-year-old from the northern state of Haryana said he slept on the platform or in a waiting room, scrounged for food and earned some money scavenging plastic bottles for reselling.

"I used to go to school but when my mother died everything was shattered," he said.

These were just a few of India's "railway children" - whose ranks are swelled by an estimated 120,000 runaways arriving each year at the stations of the world's fourth-largest railway network to make their homes there.

They have fled poverty, violence and abuse or are simply seeking adventure, attracted by the bright lights of the big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

The children are a reminder that despite newfound wealth, ranks of billionaires and a growing middle-class, there is no magic wand to solve the problems of the old India.

Even though growth has slowed in the last few years, the chance to make money still attracts the railway children to the big cities. With India on course to have the world's youngest population by 2020, their plight is a signal the country could fail to exploit this economic advantage.   Continued...

A ragpicker boy jumps onto a moving train in search of plastic bottles for reselling, at a railway station in New Delhi February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi