Ten months after a 14-year-old boy from Nepal left his home, took multiple buses and trains to reach Mumbai where he was rescued by police and sent to a children’s home, authorities managed to reunite him with his father on Friday.
The boy, a Class VII student, was rescued by police at Churchgate and brought to the Children Aid Society’s Home in Dongri on March 10 last year. Within four days of this, the Covid-induced lockdown in the state and across the country prevented efforts to locate his parents for the next few months.
Authorities at the Home said that after being brought to the children’s home, the boy said that he could not recall his home address or the phone numbers of his parents. He told officials that he had left home and managed to get public transport through which he crossed the border and reached India. From there, he came to Mumbai, a city he had heard of, by changing multiple trains.
Meanwhile, his family had also approached the police in Nepal after failing to trace his whereabouts. But there too, the efforts to trace him were impeded by the lockdown in that country.
Home authorities said that during the lockdown, they did not have much success in getting clues from him about his residence. The breakthrough came after the lockdown was lifted, when Omprakash Jadhav, a probation officer at the Home, along with other officials reached out to a Nepal citizens’ group in the city.
A member of the group came to the Home last month and spoke to the boy. “Sometimes, children who find it difficult to recall their home address or are reluctant about returning due to various reasons have to be made comfortable. We asked for small clues such as the terrain near his house, whether there were mountains, water bodies, whether public buses plied near his home. Based on the descriptions, the group reached out to people living in places in Nepal near the border as he had managed to find his way into India with ease,” an official said.
The search led them to the missing complaint filed by the boy’s parents in Surkhet district of Nepal, a four-hour ride from Nepalgunj on the border with Uttar Pradesh. Officials said that once the boy’s father was traced from the complaint, they called him. An official said that they also learnt that the boy, the only son of his parents, had lost his mother during these ten months. And the father did not have enough money to travel to Mumbai to be reunited with his son.
An NGO helped to raise money and coordinated with officials on both sides to bring the boy’s father to the city. “The boy’s father came on Friday and we handed over the boy’s custody to him,” said Rahul Kanthikar, the Home’s superintendent, adding that the reunion was filled with tears with both unable to speak much on seeing each other.
During the lockdown, over 40 children from various states and countries including Bangladesh and Nepal were stranded awaiting repatriation to their home countries and reintegration with their families in other states. The process, which is carried out through special juvenile police units, had come to a standstill except in some cases where parents took private transport and reached the city to take their children back home.
Since the easing of restrictions, most children have been repatriated, but six children from Bangladesh await completion of procedures to return home.