Duchess Draws From Childhood at Boys' Home

Kate shows Indian runaways the modest Berkshire villa from her youth during art session with real \'Slumdog\' children.

Published: 13th April 2016 10:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th April 2016 10:45 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: WHEN she was asked by a homeless child to draw a picture of her house, the Duchess of Cambridge could have plumped for Kensington Palace or her Norfolk mansion, Anmer Hall.

But, whether because she was bashful about her palatial accommodation or because of reminiscences of her own childhood, the Duchess chose to draw what appeared to be the house where she lived as a little girl.

With its red front door and traditional proportions, her drawing was similar to the Victorian villa in Bradfield Southend, Berkshire, where the Duchess lived until she was 13.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were visiting a boys' hostel near New Delhi's main railway station on Tuesday where boys who have run away from home and ended up at the terminal are helped by a charity to avoid people traffickers and criminal gangs.

Having been presented with some of the boys' drawings, the Duchess said: "Did you do this? It's beautiful, well done. Shall I do a drawing for you?" She sat down next to Shansad Abdul, 12, who asked her to draw a picture of her house. He helped her colour it in, with blue clouds and a large yellow sun.

He said afterwards: "I liked doing it with her very much and I learnt how to draw trees and greenery. She was a very good lady and very happy to sit and draw with me.

"I ran away from home because my family are very poor and couldn't look after me. I came to Delhi from Purnia 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."

Childline, the charity for vulnerable children, found him at the station and took him to the boys' home two months ago. Shansad said his brother has no idea he is in New Delhi and nor do his parents as he has no way of contacting them.

At the station the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge heard first-hand accounts of how runaway children become prey to pimps and other criminals. Street children told them how they had left their homes because of abuse or the hope of a better life, but face a constant battle for survival.

Boys and girls as young as five arrive at the station every day, where people traffickers are waiting to pounce.

The plight of such children was highlighted in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, and the royal couple heard that reality is just as grim, with some children having their eyes gouged out or hands cut off so they can earn more as beggars.

The Duke and Duchess visited a drop-in centre for the charity Salaam Baalak at the station, where on average 6,600 children arrive each year, often on their own. The charity helps children by providing food, education, health care and shelter.

The Duchess, who had been greeted earlier with a red tika spot on her forehead reminiscent of that worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales on her Indian tour in 1992, was wearing a full-length patterned red dress.

She and the Duke were told that the boys attend the centre for four hours of lessons and some food every day.

The charity's director, Sanjoy Roy, told them: "When they're not here, they're at the railway station."

The Duke asked: "Is that dangerous?" Mr Roy replied: "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 programmes to help them with that. These children that we look after are the most vulnerable. Some may have their eyes gouged 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 Duke 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. They deserve an education, future and a life."

The Duchess then changed into a jade Alice Temperley dress for a lunch with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister. Later, the Duke and Duchess arrived at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam for the third leg of their royal tour. The Duchess had changed into her third outfit of the day, a green patterned dress by Anna Sui, as they watched a performance of folk dancing.

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