Adarsh Shrivastava was traveling on a train in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Thursday morning when he noticed something suspicious — in his cabin was a large group of juvenile girls, many of whom were visibly distressed.
Suspecting something untoward, Shrivastava pulled out his phone and tweeted at railway authorities to alert them to the situation.
The Ministry of Railways responded to the tweet a half hour later, tagging the Twitter account of railway police forces and asking them to take action.
A few stops later, railway police in plainclothes boarded the train, rescued the 26 girls, and arrested two men, the Press Trust of India reported, citing railway officials.
The girls, believed to be aged between 10 and 14, struggled to provide details about their names or families. They were transferred to state child welfare authorities, who worked to identify the girls’ families and inform them of their whereabouts.
The rescue of the 26 girls is being hailed as an example of the power of social media to help fight the malaise of child trafficking, with many Twitter users hailing Shrivastava as a hero for his pro-activeness.
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The incident comes less than a month after India’s Railway Board launched an awareness campaign to address the plight of vulnerable children on the country’s vast railway network, and encourage railway passengers and employees to help railway police in their efforts to protect children from traffickers.
“This campaign has been launched to address the issue of protection of Children across the entire railway system & to sensitize all stakeholders, passengers, vendors, porters,” read a Railway Board press release.
Child trafficking is a major problem in India, with the country pinpointed as a hub of trafficking for purposes including prostitution, slavery and forced marriage, with young girls most at risk.
Over 9,000 Indian children were victims of trafficking in 2016, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Many are lured from far-flung rural areas to cities with promises of jobs, only to be sold into slavery.
Activists say the government figures make for gross underestimates, with a large number of cases going unreported.
The ministry announced earlier this year that it was ramping up efforts to tackle the menace of child trafficking, with new legislation calling for stricter punishments for offenders, expanded support services for victims and better coordination between state and federal agencies.