The Central government is likely to stop funding the Childline India Foundation (CIF), which was set up as a partnership between the government and NGOs over two decades ago to manage and monitor children's helpline 1098, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
“It has been decided that all the helplines will be run directly by the government, and not through an NGO,” the above-quoted government official said.
When asked if the government was planning to wind up the trust, the official replied in affirmative.
The government would continue to support CIF until the integration of 1098 with the national emergency helpline 112 is accomplished to achieve interoperability between the two numbers. The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) had given the task of merging the two helplines to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information and expected it to conclude it in another six months, i.e. March 2023, explained the official.
The helpline 1098 will be run by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, while 112 is an initiative of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“The integrated system will be a state-of-the-art system and we will have a completely new Child Helpline. It would also be able to respond to WhatsApp messages, SMSes and also provide an Interactive Voice Response system,” the official added.
Known as Childline until recently, the helpline 1098 started as a field action project at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, in June 1996 by Jeroo Billimoria, a professor.
In 1999, it was registered as a trust and the Secretary of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was appointed as the Chairperson of the Board. The trust was formed to serve as a link between the government and the NGOs in the sector to monitor and manage the services. The Ministry agreed to fund Childline at the national level and committed that by 2002, it would be in every Indian city with a population of 10 million, according to Childline’s website. In 2006, the Ministry of Women and Child Development was formed which under its Integrated Child Protection Scheme granted CIF the status of a “nodal mother NGO” to set up the helpline across the country.
It runs as a network of 1,080 partner organisations who have intervention units. There are centralised call centres at six regional locations.
The success of the helpline is attributed to the fact that trained social workers act as call operators. The official said that this system could continue if the State governments desired.
“If the State governments are happy, they can have the same set of people. We will give the State governments operational flexibility,” the official said.
The integration of the two helplines would allow a “two-way” inter-change. Which means that if a child called on 112 and needed counselling, the call would be transferred to 1098. But if a child called 1098 and needed medical intervention, then the call would be transferred to 112.
The government said that the integration would allow to ensure a faster response time as compared to the current 60 minutes and provide additional emergency support available through 112 such as ambulance, fire service and police intervention.