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UNICEF helps to reunite families

© UNICEF/ 2008
Bijli reunites with her family

Aditya Malaviya

Bihar: On October 01 2008, 15-year old Bijli Kumari and her 10-year old brother Vikas Kumar were found alone and unaccompanied by workers attached with Sambal programme at Banmankhi Junction of Banmankhi block in Purnia district of Bihar.

Sambal, which means ‘Support’, is an initiative to ensure protection of children and families. It is implemented by a partnership involving Department of Social Welfare, Government of Bihar, UNICEF, Save the Children, Jeevika, Indian Red Cross and others. The key functions of Sambal are to trace and reunite families, prevent trafficking and abuse and provide psycho social support.

Sambal functionaries were keeping an eye on Bijli and Vikas since the moment they were found loitering at the railway station. The children suddenly disappeared on October 2nd and a frantic search revealed that they had left with another woman for nearby Bihariganj.

It was a relief when the search teams found that the ‘brother’ standing outside the railway station with the children was indeed their brother.

The workers decided to wait at Banmankhi station since the train from Bihariganj to Banmankhi was due at 1700 hours the same day. In the meanwhile, Child Line services in Purnia were also informed and a representative requested to reach Banmankhi immediately.

The train Bihariganj arrived with no sign of the children. Not wanting to take chances, the local General Railway Police (GRP) police station was informed and a hunt for the children was launched. Sambal functionaries and the policemen were perturbed to learn that a young man claiming to be their brother had come from Delhi to take them away. It was a relief when the search teams found that the ‘brother’ standing outside the railway station with the children was indeed their brother who was taking them to their maternal grandmother’s village Dhima, about 7-kilometers away. Bijli also said their mother had gone missing during the floods (although unknown to the children, their mother had managed to reach Dhima).

Armed with this information, Bijli’s mother was finally located in her village and she was accompanied all the way to Banmankhi junction, where she was reunited with her children.

Similarly,12-year old Ajay Kumarwas found wandering at Banmankhi railway station on 10 October  2008,  looking lost and disoriented. When questioned by Sambal workers, Ajay blurted out that on 2 September 2008 he, along with his 45-year old mother Kunti Devi, had reached Katihar railway station while trying to survive the aftermath of the floods.

Though they belonged to village Murliganj in Madhepura district of Bihar, both Ajay and his widowed mother were forced to take refuge in one of the relief camps in Katihar. After spending 15-odd days at the camp, they decided to leave for Biratnagar where Ajay’s step-brother worked as a small-time welder.

Many a separation of children from their families stemmed from parental panic during the chaos of rescue. Parents loaded children onto boats and other vehicles only to realize later that they had no idea where their children were, and they had no way to contact them. It was common for children to end up at railway stations and camps hundreds of miles away.

Enroute to Biratnagar, when the train made a brief halt at Rautara station, Ajay got down to fill his water bottle. So engrossed was he in filling water that he realised only too late that the train had left the platform. Ajay somehow managed to make his way to Banmankhi from where he planned to go to Murliganj. That the road would be blocked by the flood waters only dawned on him later, and so he was stuck.   

Ajay was brought to Purnia on 2 November and handed over to Vikram Kumar, Child Line representative to be reunited with his mother.

Many a separation of children from their families stemmed from parental panic during the chaos of rescue. Parents loaded children onto boats and other vehicles only to realize later that they had no idea where their children were, and they had no way to contact them. It was common for children to end up at railway stations and camps hundreds of miles away.

UNICEF Bihar office, Child Protection Specialist, Saji Thomas, says “There were numerous reports of family members getting separated during the floods, leading to situations wherein chances of trafficking and unaccompanied child migration could be alarming if left unchecked. This is where the Department of Social Welfare and UNICEF along with other NGOs stepped in to bring families together”.

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