Currently, a landline call is greeted with the "sorry, your call cannot be processed" message, while a cellphone call is routed to the helpline centre in Bangalore

For the past year, the 1098 Childline, which coordinates child rescue and counsels abuse victims, has been defunct in the city. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel, with a new, upgraded line expected to be operational in a month.

Ironically, Mangalore, which was the first city in the State to have the Centrally-funded programme, has not seen it in operation for nearly a year. Currently, a landline call is greeted with the “sorry, your call cannot be processed” message, while a cellphone call is routed to the helpline centre in Bangalore.

Suchitra Monteiro, nodal agency coordinator for the helpline here, traces the slow dissemination of Childline to 2011, when due to “personnel” problems in YMCA, which was running the helpline here, withdrew the contract.

A non-governmental organisation, Padi-Valored, was then selected to run the centre. The NGO still awaited grants from the Centre to set up the helpline, Ms. Monteiro said.

However, the formalities were expected to be completed in a month. “It will take time for the connections to be set up, hiring of staff and so on. Unlike the old helpline, the new helpline will cover the district, extending to Padubidri,” said Asha Nayak, Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).

The reduction in the role of Childline had increased the burden on the Child Welfare Committee and the police, Ms. Monteiro said.

“Childline has been functioning for more than a year with skeletal staff who cannot not handle the calls that come daily. Instead, as CWC and Special Juvenile Police Units have gained awareness, people have started contacting us instead,” Ms. Nayak said.

To cope with the burden, a database of all 44 institutions was being updated. This way, the role of coordinating agency could be done more efficiently, Ms. Nayak said.

The impact of stoppage of the helpline led to a drop in the number of cases taken up. From an average of 400 calls a month from the city, the number reduced to around three a week, Ms. Monteiro said.

“It is more of less defunct. An 11-member team, of coordinators and counsellors, that existed before to tend to the cases on the field has been disbanded,” she said.

Being the only one in the nodal agency left, she, more-or-less, handles all calls forwarded by the Bangalore helpline to her.

“Everyday, we see beggars near Hampankatta and we can’t do anything about it. There is rampant child labour here too. Unfortunately, we have been reduced to mere spectators,” she said.

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