“In the past 15 years, we have rescued and reunited around 12,750 kids, most aged between 8-16 years, a majority being girls, but we even get 5-6 years old children or 17-20-year old teens,” Jadhav said…reports Quaid Najmi.
This week, Mumbaikars were shocked to learn of a school topper girl, who – lured by a glamour career – ran away to Telangana, but was safely rescued by Mumbai Police and brought back to her family. She is among the one crore kids, mostly girls, who run away from home, often on flimsiest grounds, and end up in strange states, cities or in deep trouble, every year, as per NCRB data.
A lucky few catch the eyes of Samatol Foundation, Mumbai, a NGO founded in 2006 by Vijay Jadhav, which specialises in ‘catching’ such runaway or trafficked kids all over the country. “In the past 15 years, we have rescued and reunited around 12,750 kids, most aged between 8-16 years, a majority being girls, but we even get 5-6 years old children or 17-20-year old teens,” Jadhav said.
It all started around 2006, when he espied a kid loitering on Mumbai streets, apparently lost and baffled, and took his charge.
“He was a very bright child of Muslim parents from Hyderabad who pressurised him for academic excellence, so he just hopped into a train and reached Mumbai. As he refused to speak, his family, school authorities and Hyderabad Police came here and arrested me, believing I was a kidnapper,” chuckled Jadhav.
As an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Jadhav attended many of rallies and protests in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, etc., and between 1997-2000, came across hundreds of kids either lost, abandoned, runaway or trafficked and decided to do something for them, by working with YUVA, a NGO, till 2004.
“My inaugural case was a 12-year-old boy, son of a Parbhani village Sarpanch, who ran away just because his dad refused to buy him a bicycle till he turned 18..! The grateful villagers invited and felicitated me. That sowed the seeds for launching Samatol Foundation,” Jadhav recalled.
Over the past 15 years, the Samatol Foundation has helped ‘catch’ and reunite nearly 13K kids, working 24×7, with over 5,000 volunteers keeping an eye for such children at railway stations, bus depots, near eateries, etc.
“I personally met over a 1,000-families all over India reunited with their kids. Their joy was overwhelming and they celebrated as if it was an off-season Diwali. Our efforts are worth it,” he said.
Jadhav said that of the 10-million kids who ‘run away’ or ‘disappear’ annually, the maximum or more than one million, land up in Mumbai alone, a favourite destination of many.
The reasons often are as ‘childish’ as the children. A 14-year-old girl decamped from Jalandhar to meet her idol Salman Khan, a 16-year-old wrote her SSC exams and directly caught a train from Allahabad for Mumbai, dreaming of a heroine’s role opposite Shah Rukh Khan.