Duchess Kate Middleton joined Prince William on Tuesday, April 12, at a charity shelter in New Delhi, India, where they met with India’s most vulnerable population: trafficked children. Us Weekly‘s European Bureau Chief Omid Scobie (who’s currently among the select members of the press on their tour) was on hand to observe the royal couple at the charity center Salaam Baalak, which seeks to restore kids living in broken conditions.
On average, about 6,600 children visit the center each year, often on their own. Salaam Baalak provides food, education, health care and shelter for kids in need, ages 5 to 18, who in some cases, run away from home due to abuse or extreme poverty. These children find themselves at the New Delhi train station, where they become easy targets for prostitution, human trafficking and physical or sexual abuse.
The Duchess, 34, arrived for the occasion in a maxi patterned red dress by Glamorous, and wore a bindi on her forehead. After greeting a group of young boys, the couple learned more about the charity’s mission from its director, Sanjoy Roy, who said: “The boys come here for four hours of lessons and some food every day. When they’re not here, they’re at the railway station.”
“Is that dangerous?” Prince William asked, which prompted the director to reply: “Yes, so they try to stick together. 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 programs to help them with that.”
Roy continued: “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 stepparents, physical and mental abuse, incredible poverty or a life event such as forced marriage.”
Moved by their stories, the Duke of Cambridge asked: “What can we do to help?”
“Spread the word,” Roy replied. “People think of them as street kids, beggars, thieves, but they are just children. They deserve an education, future and a life. They have a right to a childhood.”
The couple then met with the center’s medical professionals including Dr. Amit Sen, psychiatrist Dr. Mazhar Khan, mental health counselor Praveen Jha and others who worked in partnership with the charity. “We were just saying how amazing this charity is,” the Duchess told the group. “What’s society’s view on mental health? Is it spoken about or is there a stigma?”
Roy explained that the condition has been addressed and the charity has been asked to work alongside India’s government to “spread the word.” He added: “On the last census 110 million children were out of school and mental health is a real challenge. We want it to be looked at as a major issue.” The Duchess interjected: “As soon as possible.”
After their visit to the charity, the couple stopped by a boys’ home near the Delhi train station, where about 50 boys reside in a four-story building. There, the Duchess took a seat on the floor beside a 12-year-old boy named Shansad Abdul, who asked the mom of two to draw him a picture of her home.
Middleton picked up a pencil and drew a home with a large chimney, big front door and slated roof that shared a resemblance to the couple’s Norfolk mansion Anmer Hall. Then she helped little Shansad color it in.
“She was a very good lady and very happy to sit and draw with me,” he told Us Weekly and others via a translator. “I ran away from home because my family are very poor and couldn’t look after me. I came to Delhi from Purniya in the state of Bihar because I knew my older brother was married and living here. I came on my own and all I knew was that I wanted to find him, but when I went to his address he had moved and I had no knowledge of where he was and nowhere to go.”
Fortunately for the youngster, Childline found him at the station and brought him to the home, where he’s now lived for two months. “My brother doesn’t know I’m here,” he shared. “I’m happy but I do miss my parents. They don’t know I’m here as I have no way of contacting them.”
Middleton and Prince William concluded their visit with Salaam Baalak’s co-founder Praveen Nair, 85, who established the charity 28 years ago with funding from her director daughter Mira Nair’s Oscar-nominated 1988 crime drama, Salaam Bombay.
“It’s very fulfilling for me, the staff and the kids to [have them] come and see us,” Nair told Us. “It’s very good for the children as it makes them feel important and goes a long way to building their self-confidence. It was a revelation to see that they were like anyone else, like you or I. They didn’t say ‘oh, it’s dirty’ or refuse to shake people’s hands. That is the pre-conceived opinion for all well-to-do people and Britishers.”
Stay with Us Weekly for all the latest details from the couple’s 2016 royal tour in India and Bhutan.
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