August 19, 2008

Monday, 11th Aug, 2008
Hindustan Times
A helpline to the rescue of abused children

Ten-year-old Mariam called NGO Childline’s Shillong branch and lodged a complaint saying her 35-year-old neighbour had sexually abused her. The neighbour had threatened he would kill her father if she told him. Mariam told her friends who asked her to call the helpline.

At the Childline Foundation-Mumbai, in 2006-7, there were 1,337 calls for help to 1098 — India’s first 24X7 distress outreach service that also caters to marginalised sections – with 571 calls for missing children, 434 for shelter, 535 for emotional support and 277 for protection from abuse.

The maximum calls were for physical abuse (86 per cent), as compared to sexual abuse cases (6 per cent), and an equal number of financial abuse cases (5 per cent) between 2005-6 and 2006-7. The NGO received more than 7.5 lakh silent calls – calls where the caller chose not to speak. The data also indicate 30 per cent of calls were made by children either for themselves or to refer a friend.

Why are these children not speaking about their problems to their families?
The answer to that may be that ‘family’ is itself a luxury for the marginalised. For them, it’s not a reliable support base. Kajol Menon, executive director, Childline India Foundation, says: “The Childline calls tell us that child protection needs to be backed by on-the-ground infrastructure covering healthcare support systems, shelters, child-friendly police stations and judicial procedures. Helplines find it easier to draw children out as the anonymity helps them speak freely”.

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