News : Child Helpline 116 to Curb Abuse
June 20, 2014 -- There was a collective sigh of hope from government, UN and civil society officials on June 16, after the launch of the national toll-free child helpline, 116.
Officials applauded as Gender, Labour and Social Development Minister Karooro Okurut cut the tape in a symbolic opening of the Lira call centre. Lira is one of the 15 action centres opened countrywide for following up on reported cases of child abuse. The event preceded national celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child at Lira golf course grounds.
With the helpline or Sauti (Swahili for ‘voice’) launched, officials and rights activists are optimistic that the wide-spread abuses of the country’s youngsters can be reined back. Deprived access to education, food, basic healthcare, exploitative labour conditions, physical torture, sexual harassment, corporal punishment in schools, neglect and defilement are among the most forms of child abuses in the country.
By calling 116 (on all telephone networks), anyone can report any case of child abuse. Once recorded at the national helpline centre (currently housed at Statistics House in Kampala), the information will be relayed to respective area action centres for quick response and emergency support services required to stop suspected child abuse.
Patrick Menya, the deputy coordinator of the child helpline project at the Gender ministry, says the line has received overwhelming response from the general public. For instance, Menya disclosed that the number of calls to the national child helpline has hit the 1,000 mark on a daily basis. As a result of the aforesaid reporting, Menya said that they successfully followed up on 162 cases in which children had their rights abused.
For effective operations, action satellite centres have been set up in Lira, Kamuli, Gulu, Tororo, Busia, Mubende, Kabarole, Kisoro, Moroto, Kotido and Mukono districts to follow up on cases reported on the national child helpline. Each action centre has standby counselors, probation officers and is equipped with internet-connected computers and telephones for efficiency.
Speaking in Lira, Unicef Country Representative Aida Girma lamented that violence against children was damaging children’s hopes and aspirations in schools. Girma said such violence often led to absenteeism, poor academic performance and increased drop-out rates.
"In the long run, violence tends to breed more violence, wastes investment in education and perpetuates cycles of negative socio-economic indicators," she said.
To set up the helpline, the Gender ministry worked with several implementing partners, including unicef, the United Nations Children Fund, Plan Uganda, the African Network for Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (APPCAN) and the Uganda Child Rights NGO Network.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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