This month’s hidden hero is our entire Childline team, past and present. Although they are very visible in their distinctive green shirts, the challenges they face on a daily basis are hidden behind their smiles and strength in dealing with the abuse of children. Every organisation should have dedicated employees like these. Their unique skills and positive attitude to enable them to connect with, advocate and work for children.
The stories of 'Childline' gives us a unique perspective on today's Indian society. Can you imagine the situation of a child - or even an adult - not being able to reach out to their family, parents, friends, anyone they know, when in distress ? Our Childline team handles over 25,000 calls each year from children and even adults in and around Ahmednagar District, calling for help or protection. How can such a staggering number of calls even be possible ? The calls vary in nature and are almost always for children in need of support and suffering from oppression and injustice. The calls can be asking for help stop sexual harassment, domestic abuse, child marriage, child labor or inhumane treatment. Sometimes the calls are from children who just want to talk to someone, to express their sorrows, disappointments, pains, suicidal thoughts and fears. Calls come in from people of all walks of life, both from deprived and affluent sections of the society. Listening to their stories and learning what these children are going through would disturb any sensitive person.
From a humble beginning to a nationwide project
Snehalaya’s childline started on14 April 2003, on the day of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's birthday. Snehalaya childline was the first toll-free telephone line and listening service for children to call in India and is still recognised as the best-managed service in the country’s national network. Even before it was initiated, our Snehalaya team and volunteers had decades of extensive experience in serving disadvantaged groups, through our social development projects. On a daily basis, the team on the ground were dealing with societal problems of parental apathy towards children's education, lack of ambition and school dropouts. The team realised how these issues resulted in increasing juvenile delinquency, child marriages, adolescence addiction and the vicious cycle of desperation and anxiety. The team saw a burning need to provide an open line for listening to children in distress. Thus was born the idea of Snehalaya Childline, the first toll free phone line for children in India.
Our Childline team responds swiftly to investigate every call, working with local emergency services to rescue any child in danger. The team conducts day and night patrols of transport hubs, buses and trains passing through our district, temples and other areas where runaways or abducted children and abandoned babies end up. The extensive network of volunteers play an essential role in reporting those in vulnerable situations, helping provide vital outreach, auditing health and education facilities in slum areas and raising awareness of the 1098 number.
Today, Childline 1098 is a nationwide child rescue project. This project is supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Childline India Foundation is a non-government that operates a telephone helpline for children in distress. It is India's 24-hour, 365 days toll free, phone outreach service for children available all over the country through 602 district centers and 144 railway stations and 11 bus terminals with Child Help Desks.
The team works with multiple stakeholders: District Collector, Police, Local Municipal Commissioner, Labor Commissioner, District Women Child Welfare Officer, Justice Board, Child Welfare Committee, Government Hospitals, Municipal Zilla Parishad Education Officers, Child Educators, City Advisory Committee of Railway Police (GRP-RPF) etc. In Ahmednagar, this city advisory committee meets every three months to review the progress and issues from Snehalaya Childline.
The challenges of Childline operations
Over 19 years, Snehalaya’s Childline team has learned a lot and developed a rich outlook and is considered as a model for other teams across the country. This experience involves a very difficult journey for individual team members. Not only have they had to go trough personal emotional turmoil when handling horrendous, shocking abuse and atrocities meted upon children, they also have to deal with apathy from other support systems and the society at large. Yet, the satisfaction of having saved a life, listening to that “Thank you” from a child, gives our team immeasurable satisfaction and the drive to do what they do everyday.
This also helps motivate them as they often risk their own lives working under dangerous conditions. They frequently receive threats to their lives while conducting rescues and often give their own lunches to hungry children. Still they work with great love and compassion. Society also puts unrealistic demands on our team. They expect them to arrive at the scene within minutes of the call. They don't consider that the team has to navigate finding the address, driving through heavy traffic and ensuring police and juvenile systems are alerted to their call.
A sense of satisfaction
Despite all the challenges, there is an intrinsic satisfaction in relieving the suffering of children, that drives the team and keeps them in high spirits. All the hardship disappears with a smile and a hug from a child who has benefitted or they reach out as friends. For such transformational service and arduous journey to continue, there is a strong need from all members of the society to recognise, support and empower the dedicated team. On the day of the 19th anniversary of Childline celebrations, there was great joy in the Childline office. Our Founder, Dr Girish Kulkarni, Secretary, Rajiv Gujar, Director, Hanif Sheikh, Praveen Mutyal, Nalini Gaikwad of the Women Vigilance Committee, and many other staff and supporters wished the Childline team the best for the future. Befitting the occasion, a celebration cake was cut by a child, one of our Balmitra, and all through the celebration, the team was stranding by the phone, smiling and waiting to pick up the phone on the first ring.