Published: 08th April 2020
92,000 calls on childline, women's helpline numbers during COVID-19 lockdown, abuse on the rise
Some of the other calls received following the lockdown dealt with physical health (11 per cent of calls), child labour (8 per cent), missing and run away children (8 per cent)
The Childline India helpline received more than 92,000 SOS calls asking for protection from abuse and violence in 11 days, a sombre indication that the lockdown has turned into extended captivity not just for many women but also for children trapped with their abusers at home. Of the 3. 07 lakh calls received by the 'CHILDLINE 1098' helpline for children in distress across the country between March 20-31, covering the first week of the lockdown, 30 per cent were about protection against abuse and violence on children, said Harleen Walia, deputy director of Childline India.
This comes to 92,105 calls. According to Walia, the number of calls after the lockdown, which started after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on March 24, has increased by 50 per cent. The data was shared on Tuesday during an orientation workshop for district based child protection units and attended by senior Women and Child Development ministry officials.
Discussions at the workshop focused on coronavirus-related issues and ways to reduce stress on children during the ongoing lockdown. Some of the other calls received following the lockdown dealt with physical health (11 per cent of calls), child labour (8 per cent), missing and run away children (8 per cent) and homeless (5 per cent), according to figures shared by Walia in the meeting. Besides, the helpline got 1,677 calls with questions on the coronavirus and 237 seeking help for those who are sick.
Walia has suggested the helpline be declared an essential service during the lockdown. Many women who are victims of domestic violence are also more vulnerable during the lockdown. National Commission of Women chairperson Rekha Sharma recently said domestic violence complaints have been increasing by the day since the nationwide lockdown was imposed with 69 complaints received just through email.
From March 24 till April 1, 257 complaints related to various offences against women were received. Of the 257, 69 complaints are related to domestic violence, the latest data released by the NCW showed. Sharma said the number of cases of domestic violence must be much higher but women are scared to complain due to the constant presence of their abusers at home.
"Women are not approaching police because they think that if they take their husband away, her in-laws will then torture her. And he will, in turn, torture her more when he gets out of the police station. Earlier, women could go to their parents but now they are unable to reach them, Sharma told PTI, adding that the NCW is in touch with some of the complainants. India is currently under the biggest lockdown with around 1.3 billion people asked to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed at least 149 lives and infected more than 5,100 people.
Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries. And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It's a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a statement calling the violence against women and girls a shadow pandemic. Child rights bodies recently wrote to the Prime Minister's Office, asking the government to declare 1098 toll free and to make it a COVID-19 emergency outreach number for children or parents or caregivers.
In a joint statement, an alliance of six leading child development organisations (ChildFund India, Plan India, Save the Children India, SOS Children's Villages of India, Terre des hommes and World Vision India) on April 2 also asked the government to provide uninterrupted access to critical services for the most vulnerable children and their families.
"To overcome the immediate and long-term impact of the crisis, the government should ensure, on priority basis: access to critical services such as healthcare, nutrition, food security, mental health and psychosocial support, protection against violence and ensure social protection and child-sensitive cash transfer initiatives to the most vulnerable children and poorest families," the child rights bodies said.