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.