28 Jun 2013

What it takes - a visit to CHILDLINE Eastern region

  *Ingrid Srinath

26 June, 2013: A long but gratifying day learning just what it takes to make protection a reality for children across West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and the Andamans on my first visit to @CHILDLINE1098 's Eastern region team. Particularly struck by the role @CHILDLINE1098 plays in ensuring lofty policy promises are implemented in practice. And in navigating the maze of allied systems - police, railways, judiciary, ministries, child welfare and juvenile justice institutions, hospitals, telecom service providers - and NGOs - to get coordinated, timely action when too many are mired in apathy, bureaucracy and indifference.Huge challenges confronted with conviction, persistence and relentless stamina block by block, ward by ward, district by district, state by state, often at great personal risk.

*Ingrid Srinath is the Executive Director of CHILDLINE India Foundation.

12 Jun 2013

"Hello CHILDLINE Didi…..”

*Ingrid Srinath

One of the most emotionally demanding aspects of CHILDLINE’s work is confronting the relentless stream of information about children in dire situations. In the 2 weeks from May 16 to May 31, the CHILDLINE Contact Centre that coordinates calls from Northern and Western India received over 1.15 lac calls to our 24/7 helpline (1098). Of these, many were children and concerned adults calling to seek information, advice or simply a sympathetic ear.

In 1892 cases however, at an average of 118 each day, a child needed more active intervention.

A staggering 530 calls reported missing children, separated from their families while travelling, from a mela or other public venue, or while they were out playing.
277 were reports of child labour – child beggars, and children labouring illegally as domestic workers, in restaurants or in even more hazardous occupations.

A further 16 had been trafficked into beggary, child labour or the sex trade.

Over 200 calls were education related  – children prevented from going to school, others who felt they could not cope, still more seeking financial help.

147 were about homeless children - some abandoned, some orphaned, some simply parents who could no longer care for their children.

88 reported physical abuse, 24 of which involved sexual abuse, including 16 instances of rape.

78 were children who had run away from their homes and families seeking employment, drawn by the presumed attractions of a big city or escaping poverty, starvation, neglect or abuse.

Another 74 were cases of child marriage.

26 concerned children with physical or mental challenges children needing help.

Only 15 sought help with alcohol or other substance abuse.

And just 13 had been accused of breaking a law.

7 children had been injured in accidents.

Illnesses, emotional trauma and family conflicts accounted for most of the rest.

Analysis of the data from the South and East zones for this period is still awaited.
Each call received a compassionate hearing and counseling from CHILDLINE staff, while teams across 129 cities, towns and districts rushed to rescue the affected child, return it to its home, provide it with medical, legal or material assistance, organise shelter, provide a referral to the requisite service and, where necessary, activate the police or Child Welfare Committees.

It would be all too easy to lapse into depression at the seemingly endless saga of abuse, neglect, exploitation and desperation. To sink into despair at each news report of a child in need who did not, or could not reach CHILDLINE. Yet the inexorably rising numbers of calls are also a cause for optimism. Each represents the growing awareness that children in distress do not have to suffer in silence. They, and those that care about them, have a lifeline. And each day we are a little closer to ensuring that no child in India feels that they have no one to turn to in their time of need.

*Ingrid Srinath is the Executive Director of CHILDLINE India Foundation.

3 Jun 2013

Who can protect our children from sexual abuse? How about you?

*Ingrid Srinath

Are you outraged by the horrific daily accounts of children being sexually abused? Sickened by the gruesome statistics? Do you wish you, personally, could do something to prevent it? If you are (or know) a woman, 18 years or older, in Mumbai, undergraduate, strong communication skills in English and Hindi and, either Marathi or Gujarati, as well as some time to spare, you can start changing those dismal statistics right away by volunteering for CHILDLINE’s Child Sexual Abuse Awareness initiative.

CHILDLINE staff and partners will train you in simple, story-telling methods and equip you with material that introduce children in classes 2-6 to the concepts of safe and unsafe touch and Personal safety rules they can follow. You will receive a token honorarium (certificate and experience letter) for your work. More importantly, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a vital contribution towards stemming the tide of sexual crimes against our children. 

We have a new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences law. NGOs and state authorities in many parts of the country are taking steps to better prevent, detect and address violations. The media pays more attention to the issue. And parents are increasingly vigilant. But our strongest defence against these crimes is children who are aware of the risks and empowered to protect themselves. Our children need to know what sexual abuse is and what they can do when threatened by an abuser. In a society where many, if not most, adults are diffident about discussing the issue, too many children suffer in silence due to lack of awareness, shame or fear. You can help change that.

This is not an easy task and it demands a significant commitment of time. But if, like Nelson Mandela, you believe that “We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear" and are willing to take on the responsibility of doing so, CHILDLINE will provide the knowledge, skills and support to help you realise that goal.

CHILDLINE is India’s only dedicated, national helpline for children in distress. It brings the experience of 17 years, millions of successful interventions and specialist expertise to this initiative. Register for the programme at: http://www.childlineindia.org.in/volunteer-for-childline.htm or share this with other potential volunteers. Together, we’ll reach a million children across Mumbai this school year. And, resources permitting roll the programme out to other cities and districts soon.

*Ingrid Srinath is the Executive Director of CHILDLINE India Foundation.