The Maldives’ new children’s helpline has been inundated with calls despite only being launched in mid-November, on the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“We haven’t even started advocacy work and already we’ve received 400 calls in the first month,” said Munzir Ismail, consultant at the Department of Family and Gender. The Child Helpline call centre had been expecting around 270 calls.
Half the calls were requests for information, guidelines and procedures while 37 provided information leading to cases, 15 involving sexual abuse. Four of those calls were made by children themselves, three to report sexual abuse.
“This is the first time [the department] has received any cases from a child,” Munzir said. “Before the helpline we were notified by letters, government agencies and especially the police. But there’s never been a case reported by a child.
One call involved a child ringing up “to say she had been exposed to a lot of sexual abuse in a house and her parents had moved her for her studies. She had told her parents but nothing was done.”
The girl was relocated with a guardian, he said.
“I wasn’t expecting kids to call in the first month, but feedback from them has been that they think this is a good service. There is a lot of harassment in some households, physical and emotional, and for some children it can seem like the end of the road,” he explained.
Interestingly, almost 60 per cent of the calls were made from the atolls. 18 were prank calls while 14 had been silent, Munzir said, suggesting that perhaps children “were being hesitant.”
The social workers tasked with responding to the calls were mindful of making visits that would place the child in a position they might not want to be in at home, he said.
“We try to establish regular contact with the child if counsellors are required.”
The next step for the project was establishing advocacy programs and conducting awareness campaigns and workshops in the atolls on subjects like rights and sexual abuse, Munzir said.
“The Child Helpline is currently operating as a referral and intervention service, and while we have been using departmental counsellors we don’t have the capacity to offer a counselling service,” he added. “We are hoping to work with NGOs to operate the call centre and expand the service, and we’re willing to offer training.”
The toll free Child Helpline number is 1412