Published: 13th March 2023
Childline 1908 counsellors and their struggles: Will merger with National Emergency Number 112 help?
NGOs running Childline in the state worry about job security and impact on reporting of child issues as integration remains unclear
K Kala (47) of Ramanathapuram, who has been with Childline 1098 as a counsellor since the dedicated helpline for children was extended to the district in Tamil Nadu in 2012, says she earns a monthly salary of Rs 8,000. The satisfaction of helping children in distress kept her going, she says. The Union government last year announcing that Childline 1098 will be integrated with national emergency number 112 has, however, now left her worrying about her future as there is little clarity on what will happen after the merger is completed. “It will be difficult for me to find work at this age,” Kala says. Kala is not alone as the 550-odd workers associated with the 75 NGOs running Childline across the state find their future hanging in the balance. They also worry that reporting of child issues would take a hit from the integration, stated a report by The New Indian Express.
While mentioning that her team members work 24x7, Kala points out that they handle a range of child-related issues from child marriage to trafficking. "We have also helped children from disadvantaged backgrounds get scholarships. Working for the past several years, we have built trust among the community that they can call 1098 for any child-related issues. We get around 80 cases in the district every month for which intervention is required. We are also worried that reporting of such issues, which has increased from years of good work, will be affected," she says.
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Save for three newly-formed districts, Childline 1098 is run with help from more than 75 NGOs in all other districts in the state. While the helpline was run with UNICEF’s help in the newly-formed districts till last year, the calls are now being forwarded to the District Child Protection Unit. Childline teams are also present in 14 major railway stations and at Salem bus terminus to prevent child trafficking in the state.
"Childline receives nearly three lakh calls every year in the state, of which, around 30,000 calls require intervention. Many calls are also silent calls from children, who would want to report an incident. Social workers speak to the children, win their trust and ensure they get the required help. Childline workers also don't reveal their sources. They ensure that they travel to even remote locations to provide necessary help. This is how trust was built," said an activist working with Childline in the state.
A worker on condition of anonymity said, “Police officers are hesitant to file FIRs even in POCSO [Act] cases. We have to fight to ensure it is filed. There have been several cases where we were added as witnesses and we followed them throughout court proceedings. In most cases, child marriages happen in the wee hours of the day and we even travel to hilly areas to stop it. We are worried if government employees will work with the same commitment."
Further, activists stressed that Childline staff have expertise on the field and pitched for its utilisation in the new set-up as well. "Though they are working for children’s cause, the workers can't perform well when their livelihood is at stake. There is no clear information on how the helpline will function after the merger. The latest speculation is that Childline will continue work for the next six months till the merger is completed. A decision should be taken quickly and existing staff should be used in the future as well. They should also be provided allowance whenever they travel to rescue a child," said another activist working for child rights for more than 15 years, stated The New Indian Express report.
When contacted, a top official in the Department of Social Defence, the nodal agency for Childline in the state, said that several state governments, including Tamil Nadu, are discussing further procedure with the Union government following the latter’s direction to integrate the helpline numbers. A decision will be taken soon, the official said.