2014: UNICEF Zambia supports Childline 116
By Betty Chella Nalungwe
LUSAKA, Zambia – Childline 116 is a free phone number that spells hope for millions of children across Zambia. Childline is Zambia’s first 24-hour-free emergency phone service for children in need of aid and assistance or a concerned adult. Whether one is a concerned adult or a child, one can dial 116 toll free from any network in the country.
LifeLine Zambia is a pioneer of free telephone counselling services on all mobile networks in Zambia. It has been offering this service for nine years with the support of donors, including UNICEF.
Childline was introduced at the end of October 2011 following facilitation by child protection service providers in partnership with the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health; Plan International; Save the Children and UNICEF to complement Government efforts to promote child protection.
“Childline does not only respond to emergency needs of children but also links them to services for their long-term care and rehabilitation,” said Child line Executive Director, Florence Nkhuwa. Childline is implemented by LifeLine Zambia, a non-governmental organization that conducts counselling, guidance, and referral services on various social and health problems through a toll free “24/7/365” telephone counselling services.
“An important function of Childline is to sensitize and collaborate with key child support systems, such as the Government, police, hospitals, local government, educational institutions and social welfare organisztions to work towards ensuring the rights of children in need of special care and protection,” said Nkhuwa.
While the call centre is in an unpublicized location in Lusaka, it reaches children all over the country. According to available data, more than 214,739 children from all over the country have reached out to Childline for help.
There are compelling ethical and practical reasons for prioritising counselling for children. It is often found that children who are abused physically, sexually, and emotionally do not know who to share the problem with and sometimes duty bearers like parents or others with regular interactions with a child are the perpetrators.
“Around the world in both developed and developing countries, programmes that focus on the welfare of children have proved to be an effective tool in the provision of direct assistance to children through comfort and emotional support,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Annie Kamwendo.
A recent visit to the call center revealed that Childline Zambia received 1,711 calls on sexual abuse, improper teacher-student contact, and child labour in the period of January to May 2014. Most calls came from Lusaka, Copeprbelt, Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Muchinga Provinces.
The helpline also ensures that children speaking in English and any of the seven local Zambian languages can be communicated with by ensuring multilingual staff are in place to attend to children in the language with which they can express themselves best.
Gender is a cross cutting issue and the Childline provides all its available services to both genders. Children are allowed to speak with their preferred counsellors (male or female). Child line does not discriminate and strives to be client-centred at all times so that children feel free and comfortable to express themselves regarding the issues that worry or concern them.
“Currently Childline receives more than 400 calls a day, although there are still children and young people who want to talk to a counsellor on Childline but cannot get through. Some are not aware of the services and this calls for a need to further increase the grassroots sensitization of the services available on the ground to our community,” said Childline Executive Director, Florence Nkhuwa. “The campaigns that the Childline has been undertaking are for the sole purpose of wanting to see a Zambia in which children are heard and childhood is cherished. These statistics plainly illustrate that we have a long way to go to making that a reality and requires coordinated efforts to achieving the underlying issues.”