May 2, 2006

Indian “marathon boy,” coach run into abuse claims

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - A four-year-old child, sold
by his mother for less than $20, has been dubbed India's
"marathon boy" after he ran 65 km (40 miles) on Tuesday, but
critics accused his coach of risking the boy's health for cash.

Budhia Singh, dressed in a white T-shirt and red shorts,
covered the distance in just seven hours and two minutes, after
setting out to become the youngest Indian to cover the marathon

His progress was avidly followed by many of India's TV news
channels. Around 300 police officers ran with him, and senior
local government officials greeted him when he eventually
ground to a halt.

Born in a slum in Bhubaneswar, the capital of the eastern
state of Orissa, Budhia was a year old when his mother sold him
for just 800 rupees ($20) after his father had died.

Biranchi Das, a local judo teacher, adopted Budhia and
later discovered his unusual stamina.

Thousands of people cheered Budhia during his record
attempt, which saw the exhausted child collapse as soaring
summer temperatures sapped his energy.

An editor with the Limca Book of Records, a local version
of the Guinness publication, said Budhia's record would be
officially recognized on Thursday.

"Though Budhia had completed this distance several times,
we did not have any record to claim it," Das told reporters.

However, there are serious concerns the boy is being pushed
too far for publicity and rewards.

Orissa's state-run child welfare committee is probing
allegations the coach is exploiting the child for personal

Das has in turn won a court injunction against Orissa's
child development minister, Pramila Mallick.

Budhia said he is happy to run and run. "During my (daily)
ten-hour practice, I don't feel the pain; I enjoy it," he said.