Maldives helpline “a great achievement”: Child Helpline International

The Maldives’ Child Helpline represents “a great achievement” for the country after a year of operation, says Amrita Singh, Program Manager Asia Pacific Region for Child Helpline International (CHI).

CHI is an international network of telephone helplines and outreach services for children and young people across 150 countries.  The network has been involved in setting up the Maldives helpline since its inception in 2007. Singh visited the helpline at the Department of Family and Gender last week.

“The quality of the intervention is high, and the follow-up [of cases] is very high,” she noted. “There’s a good average number of calls and a steady stream of cases, and lot of calls seeking information. There’s also been a lot of prank calls, but in the Helpline world that’s a natural way for children to try out the helpline. One of the goals is to convert silent calls to an intervention call.”

Government support and the involvement of a telecom partner (Dhiraagu) from the outset were key factors behind the success of the Maldives’ Child Helpline in its formative year, Singh said. Child Helplines in many other countries are the initiative of civil society NGOs, and often have to fight for government backing.

“Best practice is to partner with a telecommunications company, otherwise a fee has to be paid for each call,” Singh explained. “It works best when there is a partnership model – so it’s not just one body involved but the government, UN agency, NGO and police.”

A successful Helpline served as an entry point for a child into a country’s child protection system, she explained, while the data obtained and collated from similar services worldwide gave children a valuable voice.

The Maldives’ helpline still had the occasional connectivity issue – common in the formative years of a Child Helpline, according to Singh – and “needs to identify [and reach] more children who don’t know about the helpline.”

“There’s a lot of potential for things like SMS and online counselling,” Singh suggested, adding that marketing efforts had to strike a balance between the efficacy and the capacity of the service.

The Maldives Child Helpline has received 2181 calls since it was launched in November 2009, approximately six every day. Of these calls, 72 led to intervention or assistance, while 371 were requests for information. 227 were silent, 470 were pranks, 779 were blank and 212 were listed as unclassified.

Of the calls which led to intervention, approximately half involved physical, sexual or emotional abuse of a child, or neglect, observed Munzir Ismail, consultant at the Department of Family and Gender.

“There were also some runaways. We worked to restore the children to their family and work on improving the relationships,” he said.

Most of the calls had come from Male’, he said, and that the centre’s planned annual capacity of 2,500 was on target to be met.

The blank calls, Munzir noted, involved either connectivity issues or a hesitance on behalf of the child to speak to the helpline operator – “in these cases the operator encourages them to call back when they feel ready, to try and build a relationship with the child.”

The 24 hour toll-free Maldives Child Helpline is available on 1412.