Chennai, India, Aug 31, 2023 - Following a government order to discontinue the functioning of the child helpline 1098, the state has taken over its operations after 27 years. It used to function through the three NGOs, Don Bosco Anbu Illam (DBAI) in the north zone, Community Health Education Society (CHES) in the south zone, and Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) in the central zone, assigned by the Childline India Foundation on July 31. This transition has not been smooth.
Sources in the Directorate of Social Defence, Tamil Nadu said that the state-run department is now struggling to understand procedures and follow protocols after a rescue of the child. "Volunteers are only giving primary care and first-aid; a rescue does not end there. When a child is rescued, they are supposed to file a complaint at the police station, get treatment and immediately produce the child in front of the child welfare committee. But that has not been happening," said the source.
Another issue that seems to be a matter of concern is the delay in response time. "Earlier volunteers from the NGOs were better equipped and so the process of rescuing a child was seamless. We collectively had 77 people working in the three zones across the city. A few volunteers were also stationed at railway stations in case of a rescue. Now, the number has fallen to only 26 which makes responding to site calls difficult," said a former member of the child helpline.
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With a monthly salary of 14,000 per month for a volunteer, on average they spend anywhere between 500 to 1,500 for one case and the monthly case count for Chennai is around 250 cases. "Volunteers now don’t receive a travel allowance and are forced to pay out of their own pocket to rescue a child," said the source.
N Gabriel Kurbakaran, general manager at Myrtle, an NGO that operated the railway child helpline said that when they were operating the helpline, they collected and reported the smallest of details of the rescue for the database.. By the end of the day, a daily report of the number of rescues done by each volunteer would be submitted. A separate compiled brief with pictures and a consolidated monthly report is prepared. "Now, the volunteers only rescue and an official is appointed to maintain the data. We were very particular about reporting the right numbers and kept the data transparent for everyone to access. In the current setup accessing the right data might not be possible," he added.
Amar Kushawha, director of social defence, TN, said, "We are working towards reducing the delay in response time. In spite of all the hiccups, we managed to respond to 655 calls across TN from August 20 to August 26. In a couple of weeks, we are looking at improving all the other aspects as well."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Monday, September 4, 2023
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