In Zimbabwe, a free helpline 116 spells hope for children

During my first field trip in Harare, I learned how UNICEF-supported free services respond to Zimbabwean children affected by violence and abuse

Yulu Pi
Yulu with children in Harare at the Glen View Community Centre
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Wei Jia

19 March 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe, – I had my first field trip in Harare with Swedish Ambassador, Sofia Calltorp, to visit UNICEF-supported projects that are co-funded by the Swedish Government to provide Child Protection Services. I was amazed at the kind-heartedness, enthusiasm, and conscience of Zimbabweans. This is a brand-new experience for me as a Chinese intern in UNICEF Zimbabwe in the communication section.

 

Our first stop was at Childline Zimbabwe, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that provides a free telephone helpline to report cases of child abuse. Up to 20 volunteers sit in front of phones answering the emergency calls to the number ‘116’ from vulnerable children who may be experiencing violence, writing down the case information, and providing the psycho-social support for them in one of the Childline call centres.

Consultants with the NGO, Childline respond to calls from children facing abuse.
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Yulu Pi
Consultants with the NGO, Childline respond to calls from children facing abuse.

If needed, Childline also provides face-to-face counseling for affected children and caregivers in their Drop-in Centres: child-friendly, confidential spaces for children to share their experiences and express their emotions. So far, countrywide, there are four Call Centres, 33 Drop-in Centres, and over 400 volunteer counselors working for free to give children support.

A child-friendly Drop-in Centre in Harare
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Elizabeth Mupfumira
A child-friendly Drop-in Centre in Harare

After that we headed to Family Support Trust (FST), another NGO located at Harare Central Hospital, whose aim is to provide free access to medical and psychological service to the child survivors of sexual violence, healing them in a safe and child-friendly space. Childline 116 is also working closely with FST, by referring call-in survivors who need treatment to them.

 

At FST, several victims of sexual abuse -- some as young as 13 years old--calmly told us the violence that they have gone through, mostly perpetrated by family members taking care of them every day.

 

It is heartbreaking to hear these horrible experiences, and the road to recovery from the physical and psychological trauma for girls and women can be lengthy.

If I hadn’t accepted counseling at FST, I would have committed suicide, but now I have acquired baking certification and can make a living by it

says one girl, aged 17, sitting in the counseling room.

A volunteer with Family Support Trust explains how the NGO provides free services to child survivors of sexual violence
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Elizabeth Mupfumira
A volunteer with Family Support Trust explains how the NGO provides free services to child survivors of sexual violence

Fortunately, the doctors, gynecologists, and psychologists working at FST are trained to communicate with the survivors in an appropriate way, when providing medical and psycho-social support, and sometimes offering the emergency shelter for unattended girls. And there are also social workers and volunteers who work in schools and communities teaching women and girls how to report and seek help after sexual and physical violence.

To end the day, we went to the Glen View Community Centre where Childline has established a safe and secure space to provide psychosocial support and referral services for children who were affected by a recent cholera outbreak in this high-density suburb.  

There, I saw lots of children resting in the shade, playing basketball, or receiving sanitation and hygiene information to prevent cholera. My whole heart was fully lit up by their infectious smiles.

Yulu and children at Glen View Community Centre
UNICEF Zimbabwe/2019/Elizabeth Mupfumira
Yulu and children at Glen View Community Centre

I was interested to find out if they knew about the hotline, so I asked them how they would respond if they had seen or experienced any kind of abuse. They shouted in unison,

Call 116!