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Updated: February 23, 2012 14:55 IST

Hotline to protection

Vrinda Malik
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Helpline addresses children in distress. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma
The Hindu Helpline addresses children in distress. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma

The nation-wide government helpline for children reveals their victimisation in public spaces

“Over two million phone calls made by children were received last year, that proves that there are voices that needed to be heard and matters that needed to be addressed,” said Kajol Menon of CHILDLINE 1098 as she introduced their latest study on ‘Child Protection Mechanism'.

“To ensure that an environment conducive to a safe and protected childhood is created and sustained, it is important to define the boundaries of the environment and develop child protection standard for those spaces,” Ms Menon added.

The study conducted by CHILDLINE is the first attempt to bring the government's Integrated Child Protection System (ICPS) and other child protection agencies together. It focuses on an assessment of protection mechanisms across spaces to bring attention to the child protection discourse, strengthening the child protection consciousness among all directly or indirectly involved with children.

Majority of children who are provided assistance by CHILDLINE 1098 live without parental support and their families do not have dependable means of earning an adequate livelihood. Calls for help also come from workplaces, railway and bus stations, streets, home and neighbourhoods showing that children are victimized in public spaces as well. The survey categorized six significant spaces -- public service, public institutional care, statutory bodies, public common spaces, community based non residential and public safety. After gathering information from the spaces and analyzing the phone calls received on the helpline, the foundation drafted the standardized guidelines to ensure child safety and protection.

Key findings of the survey brought to light issues like 28 per cent of schools did not have separate toilets for boys and girls, only 10 per cent schools reported having a child protection policy and 64 per cent schools said that they take no measures to ensure safety of children outside the school premises.

“There are so many cases of abuse and ill treatment in schools and we need to ensure that CHILDLINE phone is available in educational institutions for children,” Farida Lambay, NGO Pratham's founder-director said. The survey also showed that only five per cent schools had a no-corporal punishment policy and 33 per cent resorted to beating and 12 per cent resorted to humiliating children in front of their peers as a form of punishment. The survey stated that 28 per cent schools reported drop out of students due to child labour and 21 due to child marriage.

“Children are not assets of the country, they are equal shareholders and for that we need to frame policies- not out of charity but out of responsibility towards them. Child labour should not be treated as a hazard in the industry but as a matter of great shame for the entire nation. In order to make spaces safer for children we need to view the problem from the perspective of a child,” Ms. Alpa Vora, Consultant, Child Protection, UNICEF said. She added that that it is important to create a child protection movement in the country and that the child protection has to go beyond the Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) and other legislation pertaining to children.

The study recommends that hot lines to 1098 be provided in police stations, schools, hospitals etc and the agencies dealing with issue of child protection coordinate to share information. Dr. Nilima Mehta, Former Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Mumbai said the idea that children have rights of their own, which transcend the family settings is a concept that needs to be universally accepted. “Society has a special responsibility towards children whose vulnerability and dependence makes it mandatory for parents, adult authority figures and society as a whole to make a special response in law a practice. We need to ensure that they are protected against abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect,” Dr Mehta said.

In 1996, Mumbai launched CHILDLINE, the country's first toll-free tele-helpline for street children in distress. As of March 2011, total of 21 million calls since inception have been serviced by CHILDLINE service and operates in 172 cities/districts in 30 states and union territories through its network of 415 partner organisations.

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