Cloud over child helpline 1098 as government mulls merging it with national emergency helpline 112

Civil society organisations worried about new proposal

April 16, 2022 10:18 pm | Updated April 17, 2022 02:09 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Childline 1098 is a 24x7 emergency, free phone outreach for children in distress. File

Childline 1098 is a 24x7 emergency, free phone outreach for children in distress. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Childline 1098 is the country’s only dedicated helpline number for children and the entire child rights sector relies on it to provide assistance to them, but today a cloud hangs over its future as the government plans to merge it with national emergency helpline 112.

Childline 1098 is a 24x7 emergency, free phone outreach for children in distress. It is one of the world’s biggest emergency helpline service dedicated for children, and is considered to be among the country’s largest emergency response systems with 50 lakh calls received annually. But civil society organisations are worried about its future after the government in its recent draft guidelines for Mission Vatsalya scheme for child protection services said the Childline will be “integrated” with the universal emergency helpline 112 of the Ministry of Home Affairs that also provides assistance with services related to police, health and women’s safety.

The draft guidelines of the Ministry of Women and Child Development say the detailed Standard Operation Procedure on the helpline will be issued separately. Last year, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani said the administrative control of Childline 1098 will be transferred from her Ministry to the Ministry of Home Affairs so that police personnel, and not social workers, answer the calls made to 1098. Senior officials of the Ministry said this was being done to ensure that the States are the interface for complaints from children as well as for “data sensitivity”.

“There is probably a plan to divert calls made to 1098 to 112, but why is this extra layer needed when 1098 is operating very well. Moreover, Childline’s work not only involves rescuing children but also counselling them, identifying what is bothering them and then finding solutions to those problems. For instance, during the pandemic we received calls from poor parents who said they didn’t have resources to look after their children and wanted to put them in a shelter. So, we supported them by linking them with different government schemes so that their children were not abandoned,” says Rita Panicker, Director of Butterflies — a Delhi–based NGO that is among Childline’s many collaboration partners which provide emergency intervention on the ground after a call is made to the helpline.

Childline 1098 is run by a private trust called Childline India Foundation, which receives funding from the Ministry of Women and Child Development under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme, which is now part of Mission Vatsalya. It started as a project at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences by its professor Jeroo Billimoria in June 1996. Today, it has six call centres in five cities and is available to children in 598 districts across 35 States and Union Territories through a network of 1074 intervention units, which include help desks at 141 railway stations and five bus terminals.

Interventions related to law and order issues are only a fraction of cases Childline deals with. It is infact a one–stop for different kinds of problems children might face, from family discord, food shortage, medical assistance, help with enrolment in schools, etc.

According to Childline’s annual report for 2021–2022, of the 50 lakh calls received in the entire year, 1.04 lakh calls were about sexual abuse and 18,000 about missing children, while nearly 1.6 lakh calls sought information about and referral to various services. The helpline also fielded 1.59 lakh calls related to Covid–19, where parents inquired about vaccinations for children or kids sought help to return home when lockdowns forced many to migrate from big cities to their villages. 

Of the total intervention cases in 2019-2020, 57% were for calls made directly to 1098, while 33% were those that were identified during outreach activities and then routed through the helpline underlining the role of awareness campaigns, street plays and Open House sessions conducted with children in delivering protection services to them.

Half the calls to the helpline are also silent calls when children are too scared or traumatised to speak up. Social workers slowly build confidence and only after many such silent calls do children open up which is why social workers say transferring 1098 to 112 may result in a drop in reporting of crimes and other cases by children. “Police are trained to interrogate, but they don’t have the training to deal with such calls. They are also over–worked and stretched,” says Ms. Panicker.

Childline also works closely with and supports police and district teams by interviewing children in distress, helping them in filing FIRs, accompanying them during medical examinations, taking them to Child Welfare Committees where they have to be produced as per law, and by linking them with shelters, explains Dr P N Mishra, Executive Council member, Salaam Baalak Trust.

“Childline is a last–mile responder for children in need of care and protection and the entire child rights sector depends on it. We have not seen any report from the government analysing Childline operations that justifies the move to merge it with 112. A few years ago, the government tasked a team to evaluate a single number for all helpline, but the report of that team doesn’t have any analysis of Childline,” says Nishit Kumar, Founder and MD, Centre for Social and Behaviour Change Communication.

He also asked whether a single emergency number such as 911 in the US was viable in India when police is under State jurisdiction.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.