Let’s work together to ensure that no child is left unheard!
“I’m not pretty, and people ‘throw it in my face’.” That’s how a 16-year-old girl begins her call to the local child helpline. “They laugh at me and talk about the way I dress; what should I do?” During almost two hours of conversation, she shared that ‘friends’ had taken a picture of her drunk and without clothes on at a party, and everybody at school received the photo via texting. After that they started to cyber-bully her, with boys telling everyone that she was ‘easy’. She contemplated suicide twice and had started cutting herself, ‘to punish me for being who I am’. Because of her thoughts about suicide and actual self-harm, the child helpline counsellor referred her to a psychologist for face-to-face counselling and assured her that she could always call again.
This is a real story. Every year, almost 30 million children contact a child helpline. But half of the children’s calls for help are never answered due to a lack of resources. Child helplines simply don’t have enough counsellors available or enough phone and chat lines open. In many countries, child helplines have to shoulder the cost of the incoming phone calls, which means that funding is not allocated to provide the actual service.
How can the ICT industry support child helplines?
The most important area of support is waiving the costs of incoming calls to child helplines. This is an important milestone in ensuring that no child will be left unheard. However, this is only the first step.
Toll-free numbers increase the access to child helplines, but sadly, child helplines often cannot afford to respond to every call due to their limited resources: a shortage of counsellors, limited working hours, or a lack of the necessary technological tools.
It is therefore crucial that stakeholders from the wider ICT industry assist child helplines to build capacity and provide them with telecommunications systems, training, financial support or other means that would help them improve the quality of services that they provide.
Partnering to protect children and youth
In 2005, ITU and Child Helpline International signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together towards providing the necessary support for toll-free telephone helplines and to find available technological solutions to protect children online.
As a result, this year on 17 May – World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, and Child Helpline International Day – we launched the joint campaign “Partnering to Protect Children and Youth”. The campaign aims to showcase how ITU’s membership and other key stakeholders can help strengthen the work of child helplines.
As part of this campaign, ITU is organising an online consultation, inviting its members present the initiatives they have undertaken to support child helplines across their markets. These stories will help identify best practices of collaboration between the wider ICT industry and child helplines. A selection of case studies will be presented at the ITU Telecom World event in Bangkok, from 14-17 November 2016.
About Child Helpline International
Child Helpline International is one of the world’s largest collective impact organisations, a network of 183 members that listen and help children and young people in 142 countries. Collectively, child helplines have received over 300 million contacts since Child Helpline International’s inception in 2003.
Child helpline counsellors actively listen to children and young people who wish to express their concerns, and link them to resources and emergency assistance as needed. Where necessary, child helplines also directly intervene, providing shelter and legal support.
If you want to learn more about the campaign Partnering to Protect Children and Youth or you are interested in a partnership with the child helpline(s) in your country, please email Magdalena Aguilar -Head of Programme Development, Child Helpline International at email@example.com or Carla Licciardello – Child Online Protection Focal Point, ITU at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1This story was provided to Child Helpline International by one of the two child helpline members operating in Brazil. You can find more of the arresting cases that child helplines deal with every day around the world, in the publication Violence Against Children.