Infrastructure woes mar kids' helpline

Long-term monitoring, rehabilitation systems need of the hour

As the Child Rights Week draws to a close on November 20, awareness campaigns and programmes are being held in large numbers to draw people’s attention to the plight of children in distress.

An almost alien concept some years ago, child rights organisations and government departments in the last few years have taken steps, notably the starting of a childline for children who need help, to further the cause of child rights.

In Bangalore, Childline 1098 is no longer unheard of, as more and more calls are pouring in, whether is it to report instances of child abuse, child marriage or child labour. But problems remain.

A project of Mumbai-based Childline India Foundation (CIF), the childline in Bangalore is managed by two NGOs Bosco and Association for Promotion of Social Action (APSA) with Child Rights Trust as a nodal organisation. According to sources working on the helpline, they face a tricky situation as the helpline is bogged down by infrastructural problems.

“We receive more than 50 calls a day. Some of the children need immediate rescuing from their situations. But we do not have sufficient sp#ace for keeping them. There is no robust rehabilitation system in place and this acts as a deterrent,” a volunteer with the
helpline said.

The lack of long-term monitoring and rehabilitation also dogs this programme. Children who are rescued as part of the Childline operations are either lodged in the Boys Home or the shelters run by Bosco and APSA, and then produced before the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs). Many times, when the children are sent back to the parents by the CWC, they appear right back where they were found in the first place, all in a short period of time.

“We need to develop long term rehabilitation facilities. We dispose of the cases quickly since the children cannot be held for a long time, but it can also be counterproductive, as the children run away again or get back to the same jobs they were doing earlier,” the source said.

More funding to increase something as basic as vehicles (there are only two rescue vehicles for the entire City of Bangalore), more collaborators and also the setting up of the childline in the districts separately are expected to improve its functioning. Lately, with the influx of migrants, the problem of language has surfaced.

Often children of the parents, when called, cannot communicate in the same language and matters become worse when the children are produced before the CWCs. There is a constant hunt for translators.

Member of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and executive director of Bosco, Father Edward Thomas explains that one of the main problems facing the helpline is the calls coming from all over the State.

“It is difficult for us to manage so many calls. CIF is planning to have a centralised call centre in Chennai and this will ease the call rates. We get a lot of prank calls and abusive calls. A centralised system to receive calls will also allow us to keep track of them. The police should also take immediate action against those who make such calls,” he said.

For sheltering the children, Father Thomas is seeking to coordinate with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) to rehabilitate school dropouts or for children who need bridge schools.  SSA has about 45 homes in Bangalore alone and housing some of the children here will ease the stress on the other shelters.

Mail spam

As if prank calls were not enough, Childline has been a victim of mail spam. A chain mail has been doing the rounds lately which says that one should call up 1098, so that they pick up leftover food after a party or any function so that it is not wasted.

This mail has resulted in some good Samaritans calling up the helpline to offer food to a bewildered helpline and forced CIF to issue a disclaimer stating, “We are India's only and most widespread phone emergency outreach service (1098) for children in need of care and protection. We do not pick up food or distribute food. This mail was not initiated by us, kindly do not circulate it”.

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