You’ve seen the grim statistics: Two out of every three children in India are physically abused; 69% suffer some form of physical abuse; 65% of school children face corporal punishment; 53% have suffered some form of sexual abuse; every second child faces emotional abuse.*
You’ve almost come to dread the news. Each day brings more chilling, gruesome tales of violence, neglect, exploitation and worse from every part of the country. Is there no end, we wonder, to the variety of ways in which we choose to torture, maim, violate and inflict cruelty on our children?
Imagine then the effects on those who spend their days and nights responding 24/7 to the calls for help for children in distress. Try, if you will, to put yourself in the shoes of the resilient women and men whose job it is to answer the 11000 daily phone calls seeking to save a threatened child from harm. The relentless flow of pain, anguish, anger and the long, silent calls that leave one speculating what unspeakable trauma lies at the other end of the line. Perhaps most painful of all are the thousands of calls that could not be completed because the phone lines were overwhelmed.
This year, in March alone, CHILDLINE, India’s dedicated helpline for children in distress, received 362000 calls. Children who went missing, abandoned children, runaway children, children subjected to abuse of too many kinds to list, children forced into early marriages, children trapped in illegal and hazardous labour, trafficked children, children in need of urgent medical attention, children whose physical or mental challenges make them particularly vulnerable, children with HIV/AIDS, children enslaved by substance abuse, children who find themselves in conflict with the law, children who simply need a sympathetic ear… the list goes on and on.
Logging this endless litany of injury and torment, then activating, coordinating, and, where necessary, building the capacity to respond from grassroots organisations, the police, hospitals, shelters, the legal system and the like takes a small army of CHILDLINE staff and partners across 291 districts and towns. The joy at each successful rescue, rehabilitation, repatriation or policy advance is too often muted by the instances where it proved impossible to prevent an atrocity or the frustration at an unresponsive system.
In my first week at CHILDLINE I have been struck by the resilience, commitment and sheer courage from these first responders whom we charge with the protection of our children. I’m struck too by the simplicity of CHILDLINE’s model – from the state-of-the-art technology of the contact centre to the myriad partnerships that enable swift, customised, local responses. I’m struck most of all by the thousands of remarkable people who make CHILDLINE possible.
It’s equally clear, however, that the 4 million calls CHILDLINE responded to in 2012-13 are but the tip of a vast, unseen, unrecorded iceberg of children in dire circumstances. And that reaching those children will take substantially increased resources and effort. I believe that India has the capacity and the will to close that gap. We can do this India! Shouldn’t we?
*statistics are from 2007 Study on Child Abuse by Ministry of Women and Child Development.