Ten-year-old Mariam called NGO Childline’s Shillong branch and lodged a complaint saying her 35-year-old neighbour had sexually abused her. The neighbour had threatened he would kill her father if she told him. Mariam told her friends who asked her to call the helpline.
The NGO team rushed to her rescue. An FIR was lodged in the local police station; the child was taken to hospital for a medical examination and the perpetrator was arrested.
At the Childline Foundation-Mumbai, in 2006-7, there were 1,337 calls for help to 1098 — India’s first 24X7 distress outreach service that also caters to marginalised sections – with 571 calls for missing children, 434 for shelter, 535 for emotional support and 277 for protection from abuse.
In the same period, one of the chapters of the NGO in Delhi registered 2,021 calls for missing children. Calls for emotional guidance rose to 2,406 in 2006-7 vis-a-vis 2,012 in 2005-6.
In smaller towns, the stats are less gloomy. In Allahabad, for instance, there were just 34 calls for emotional help in 2005-6 and 47 calls for missing children.
These are some of the findings of a just-published report based on an analysis of calls to the helpline between 2005-6 and 2006-7. As of March 2008, the number of calls received annually on the helpline in India, at over two million calls per year, amounts to 20 per cent of all the calls received by children’s helplines the world over.
The maximum calls were for physical abuse (86 per cent), as compared to sexual abuse cases (6 per cent), and an equal number of financial abuse cases (5 per cent) between 2005-6 and 2006-7. Cases of problems related to studies and low self-esteem also figured.
The NGO received more than 7.5 lakh silent calls – calls where the caller chose not to speak. The data also indicate 30 per cent of calls were made by children either for themselves or to refer a friend.
Why are these children not speaking about their problems to their families? The answer to that may be that ‘family’ is itself a luxury for the marginalised. For them, it’s not a reliable support base. Kajol Menon, executive director, Childline India Foundation, says: “The Childline calls tell us that child protection needs to be backed by on-the-ground infrastructure covering healthcare support systems, shelters, child-friendly police stations and judicial procedures. Helplines find it easier to draw children out as the anonymity helps them speak freely”.