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William and Kate meet runaway children at charity supporting vulnerable young

Published 12/04/2016

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at India Gate in New Dehli
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at India Gate in New Dehli

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have heard the heartbreaking stories of runaway children fending for themselves in the New Delhi railway station.

The youngsters who have escaped neglect, abuse or poverty at home and sought a new life in the Indian capital met William and Kate at the bustling transport hub.

Salaam Baalak Trust is an organisation working to support the vulnerable children and the Cambridges met its founder Praveen Nair, 85, who used money from her director daughter's Oscar-nominated film Salaam Bombay to establish it 28 years ago.

The visit came on the a day the royal couple sat down for talks with India's prime minister Narendra Modi, and discussed "the pressures facing steel manufacturers in the UK and India," according to a source.

William and Kate toured a drop-in centre run by Salaam Baalak Trust at the capital's station - where, on average, 6,600 children travel to each year, often on their own.

The charity helps children aged from five to 18 years providing food, education, healthcare and shelter.

Some of the boys that Kate and William met at the drop-in centre - just one room in Delhi station's police headquarters where the charity first started - were recovering drug addicts.

They met Amir, 16, who became addicted to glue-sniffing nine months ago while living rough at the train station.

The trust's director Sanjoy Roy told the couple about the organisation's work, saying: "We look after around 7,000 kids a year, but every day around 40 to 50 new children arrive at the station.

"They often have to deal with trauma, learning difficulties, ADHD and we have special programmes to help them with that. These children that we look after are the most vulnerable. Some may have their eyes gauged out or hands hacked off.

"The primary reasons they run away from home are misunderstanding with step-parents, physical and mental abuse, incredible poverty or a life event such as forced marriage."

The charity has six homes, 21 contact centres and three Childline centres near stations, bus stands and railway stations across Delhi.

William asked: "What can we do to help?"

Mr Roy replied: "Spread the word. People think of them as street kids, beggars, thieves but they are just children."

Later the Cambridges visited a boys' home near Delhi station where around 50 boys live in the four-storey building and when they arrived they chatted to some youngsters who were doing artwork.

Having been presented with some of their drawings, Kate said: "Did you do this? It's beautiful, well done. Shall I do a drawing for you?"

Kate sat down next to Shansad Abdul, 12, who asked her to draw a picture of her house.

It was not clear exactly which of her homes she drew, but the picture with its large chimney, slated roof and large red front door could have been Kate's former childhood home.

Mrs Nair, who was very impressed with William and Kate's interest, said: "It's really very heartening to see well-to-do people are aware of the problems and they come and see it for themselves.

"It's very fulfilling for me, the staff and the kids, to come and see us.

"It's very good for the children as it makes them feel important and goes a long way to building their self-confidence."

Later the Cambridges were entranced by the energetic dancing of a three-year-old boy at a fireside party when they received a cultural welcome to Kaziranga National Park in eastern India.

William and Kate were greeted by a romantic fireside harvest festival at the park's Diphlu River Lodge in Assam.

Kate was in her third outfit of the day, a green patterned dress by American designer Anna Sui, while William wore a white shirt and grey khakis and desert boots, as they sat around the flames in a sandy enclosure made sticky by a downpour about half an hour earlier.

Despite the tacky ground, the women danced barefoot, but it was the little boy, who moved between a group of dancers and drummers including his father, that caught their eye.

"They were so happy to see him. They were really watching him," said Ranjinee Bhukan, of the British deputy high commission.

"I'm sure they were remembering their little one."

At the end they sought him out to meet him, and chatted to his dad. "You were very energetic," William told the little boy. "He knows his dancing very well," he added.

The Cambridges clearly enjoyed the event - a spring festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of the new year tomorrow.

When they met the musicians afterwards William tried his hand at playing the gogona, an instrument like a Jews's harp made out of bamboo.

"Is there anything you can't play?" he asked Krishna Kanta Baruah. "Very unusual, brilliant," he added.

William told the little boy who had caught his eye: "You were very energetic." It was something of a contrast after a day when they met young vulnerable children and heard heart-wrenching stories faced by women and girls in the country.

The couple are staying at Diphlu River Lodge in the park for two nights as they see for themselves the efforts to both preserve wildlife and learn what is being done to manage the conflicts that arise when humans and wild animals live in close proximity.

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