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New Child-Friendly Spaces to Serve Kids Trafficked on India’s Trains

2022 04 Every Child Matters Mural jpg 202204 BAN Child Friendly Spaces at Train Stations Approved for Full Use

Millions of children and families crisscross India every day on its intricate network of railroads. But even as the rails keep people connected, they are also heavily used by human traffickers to recruit vulnerable victims and transport them for exploitation—including thousands of children trafficked every year.

But today, a new initiative from the police Railway Protection Force in Bangalore is seeking to make these critical railways just a little bit safer, with innovative child-friendly spaces to protect vulnerable kids.

On April 8, the RPF’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) in the state of Karnataka inaugurated India’s first-ever child-friendly spaces at two prominent Bangalore train stations. They’ve named it a Khushi Hub (meaning ‘happiness’) and hope it will transform how children are served and protected long-term.

Why Safe Spaces Matter

It is estimated that a child arrives alone at a major railway station in India every five minutes(UNICEF, 2013). These children could be seeking work to help their families, running away from abuse, or may simply be orphaned with nowhere else to go. Criminals often prey on vulnerable children, win their trust, and traffic them to other places for labor or sex.

IJM has been working in the state of Karnataka since 2006 and, in that time, we have seen local authorities working tirelessly to improve protection for vulnerable children at railway stations. Since 2019, we have been supporting the RPF’s Operation Nanhe Farishtey to rescue trafficked children and help them find long-term care.

Yet as the RPF increased their understanding and effectiveness at rescuing children, they began to struggle with the lack of adequate facilities to support victims and help them feel safe.

The standard interview room to counsel a suspected victim was often a small, dark space where kids felt more intimidated than encouraged to share the truth—meaning traffickers could escape before the story came to light. There was not enough space for larger groups of children and rarely any facilities for children to eat and sleep during overnight interventions.

To address these challenges, IJM and the RPF worked together to conceptualize and build out the new child-friendly spaces, to keep child victims comfortable and ensure the truth could be heard.

Inside the “Happiness Hub”

Inside the bustling Krativeera Sangolli Rayanna (KSR) Railway Station—where 250,000 people travel every day—sits the first of these Khushi Hubs to support trafficked children. A second hub has been built at the smaller Yeshwanthpur Station, also in Bangalore.

These bright and colorful facilities include new spaces for children to play, read or rest, along with a private interview room and workspace for RPF officers, and a pantry, dining area, restroom, and a room for nursing mothers. Police built a separate interview room for suspected traffickers—to ensure they cannot intimidate victims—and equipped the space with CCTV cameras for 24x7 monitoring and safety. All of these innovations are designed to meet international standards for child-friendly policing spaces.

First responders, including government officials and trained NGO staff, will use this 600-square foot space to interview children safely, plan for their immediate care, and counsel them from their initial trauma.

The RPF’s Principal Chief Security Commissioner for the SWR, Alok Kumar, added, “This will mark the SWR’s first dedicated space for counselling children rescued by the RPF, including victims of child trafficking. It is a great initiative to provide psycho-social support and counselling to children who come in contact with the railways.”

Safe Space Inauguration

On April 9, 2022, the new Khushi Hub at KSR Station was officially inaugurated by Mr. Sanjeev Kishore, the general manager of the South-Western Railway (SWR), in the presence of other railway officials, police leaders, local security commissioners, and IJM staff.

Debashmita Chattopadhyay, the senior divisional security commissioner for RPF, shared, “The launch of this space is a tangible result of RPF’s commitment, and it supports and strengthens our existing efforts to combat trafficking. The Khushi Hubs provide a safe setting for children to identify the traffickers, and this helps the RPF officials track down the perpetrators. We also hope for effective collaboration with the state government and NGOs to ensure that these children are not re-trafficked.”

Since coming online, 62 children (51 boys, 11 girls) have been rescued by the RPF in the two pilot stations and have been served by the Khushi Hubs. These rescued children were predominantly from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Karnataka.

Officials will continue to monitor the progress of these Hubs over the next three months and plan to improve the model as it begins to be replicated in other key stations across the state.

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