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A lifeline for children at risk

© Courtesy: Aparajeyo Bangladesh
Children and NGO workers gather in front of Press Club in Dhaka to popularize the Child Helpline number 1098.

By Raffat Binte Rashid

Dhaka, October 15, 2012: Late in the afternoon Projesh  walked the narrow lanes of Gazipur Bazar with his school bag as his only possession and randomly boarded a bus that took him to Sadarghat launch terminal, a place that is some 60 kilometres away from his locality.

Projesh, a schoolboy of 14, left his home following a discord with his mother regarding his  grades. He could not meet his mother’s expectations and worst of all, she accused him of lying.
 “Wandering aimlessly and with a scared look in his eyes, Projesh was spotted by a tea stall vendor nearby, who happens to be one of our volunteers of the Child Hepline project in that locality. He immediately informed us and we went to rescue him,” says Shahima Khatun, Social Worker of Child Helpline.

 “We took him to the temporary shelter home for the night and after having several counselling sessions with him, Projesh gave us his home address. Incidentally, while we were contacting his Thana police office; his father was filing a general diary (GD) with the police station. Our search became simple,” Shahima continues to relate Projesh’s story.
But when Projesh was asked to talk to his father, his first response amid violent sobs was, “Did he look for me? Does he want me? I am not a liar, and I did not want to live under her (mother’s) roof with such accusations, so I left the house,” Projesh told the social worker.

Angry and hurt, this young teenager naturally wanted to be loved and accepted by his family and after sitting with his mother and counselling his parents, Projesh is now happily reintegrated with his parents.

Life inside the shelter
However, not all stories end on happy notes.

Marufa, a pretty young girl of 16, left home because she did not like the environment at home. The constant fights between her parents created an environment of hostility and nurtured in her a sense of unhappiness and insecurity. 

“Unfortunately, her father explained that this is not the first time she ran away from home. At other times, they rescued her but now they do not want her back either. Marufa is now staying with us in our shelter home till we find a solution to her problem. But she does not want to return home and she continues to ask us to let her live on the streets,” Shahima relates another case of the child helpline.

Listless and not willing to communicate, Marufa was lying on her bed with a hand covering her face while the other three children of the shelter home were playing a board game. Two pre-adolescent girls of hardly eight years got lost while coming to the city with their parents and now reside with Marufa in the shelter. They cannot remember any details of their home and with no leads to follow they are staying at the shelter home till a solution is found for them.

© UNICEF/BANA2011-00648/Mawa
A worker receives a call at the Child Helpline centre in Lalbagh, Old Dhaka.

1098 – A number that can change lives
“Child Helpline is the first toll-free land line number in Bangladesh and anyone can dial 1098 within the project area that covers eight police stations -- namely Motijheel, Paltan, Lalbag, Chokbazar, Bongshal, Kotwali, Shutrapur, Shyampur and 20 wards of Old Dhaka. Their services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And others outside the project area can call from mobiles or landlines on 027312340,” says Tanzima Taslim, Documentation and Publication Officer, Child Helpline.

Child Helpline is a UNICEF-supported project which is implemented by the Ministry of Social Welfare  in collaboration with a partner NGO. The Child Helpline is providing an emergency support service to children at risk, as well as to adults who needed to raise the alarm about certain children. The service also links the children with existing social protection services through rescue, safe shelter, referral and networking.

“We want to set up booths in Gabtoli bus terminal and Kamalapur railway station similar to our Sadarghat launch terminal mobile rescue booth. With the help of police, we make special provisions during festivals and keep vigil at these points,” she informed.

However, there are a few challenges and difficulties faced by the project. These include accessing the 1098 toll free number from mobile phones, providing information in a short time, domestic violence case intervention and access to children, support to disabled children, referrals within a short time, safe shelters for boys, rescues and referrals from outside the project area.

“We are pursuing mobile operators to give us a toll free number because we believe that if we had a mobile number our outreach would multiply,” says Russel Ahmed Sojib, Child Rights Officer of Aparajeyo Bangladesh.  Mobile operators are yet to lend a hand to the project.

No stone left unturned
The project has very elaborate awareness building and outreach programmes, namely school awareness sessions and peer team formations, human chains, campaigns at different programmes and distribution of awareness materials. Besides, visiting religious institutes to raise awareness through khutba or sermons during Friday prayers, meeting with Imams, NGO representatives, teachers, guardians, social clubs andpanchaet members are also done.

“The social workers visit health care centres, factories, launch terminals, police stations, Victim Support Centres. They also arrange for night field visits and maintain regular contact with mobile recharge shops and local grocery shops which helps them to locate children at risk and in need of help. Along with all these awareness building steps, Child Helpline has a help desk at every Ward Secretary’s office throughout the project area,” says Russel.

*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.



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