Child helplines launched in Zimbabwe to offer counselling and help


Child helplines are an outstanding example of the benefits of modern communication tools in helping people access the information and resources they need. Children are among the most disempowered in all societies, least able to get information, support and help when they are in need. When their needs are ignored, they are in need of protection and if their rights are violated the adults around them, or they can reach out to a childline for help just by dialling a number.

There have been several international and regional steps taken to strengthen the partnership between child helplines and the telecommunications services in an effort to offer greater protection to children. It is intended, that these will have a positive influence on the establishment and development of a formal partnership between Childline Zimbabwe, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in Zimbabwe (Potraz) and the various telecommunications providers in Zimbabwe so as to achieve better outcomes for children in Zimbabwe providing them with protection when they need it most.

In 2006, the United Nations Global Study on Violence Against Children (VAC) was finalised. This study made 12 recommendations detailed in its final report, compiled by Professor Pinheiro, which were formulated for all stakeholders and states specifically to take action to prevent and combat violence against children.

The most applicable recommendation for child helplines and telecommunications services and regulators was the following: "Create accessible and child-friendly reporting systems and service: I recommend that states should establish safe, well-publicised, confidential and accessible mechanisms for children, their representatives and others to report violence against children. All children, including those in care and justice institutions, should be aware of the existence of mechanisms of complaint. Mechanisms such as telephone helplines, through which children can report abuse, speak to a trained counsellor in confidence and ask for support and advice should be established and the creation of other ways of reporting violence through new technologies should be considered."

The 116 regional short code means children anywhere in Africa can access it reaching a Childline in that country, even further enhancing child protection mechanisms. Forty-five percent of the calls received are a report of a child being sexually abused. Sixty-eight percent of calls received are from or regarding a female child being abused. The Helpline receives a minimum of one call of a child attempting suicide per month. The trained volunteer counsellors operate the Helpline 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Research completed by the child Helpline operating in Canada found that children will call a minimum of 21 times before they disclose and report abuse. Children will call several times to "test" and verify the confidentiality and consistency of the service, building their trust in the helpline to give them the help they need. Childline Zimbabwe does receive "test" calls, however the majority of calls answered involve a report of child abuse, particularly from members of the public.

The services offered by Childline Zimbabwe are unique within the country, being the only 24-hour service available for children that is an alternative to walking into a police station or a hospital to make a disclosure of suffering abuse.

Childline Zimbabwe intends to set up a FREE TEXT/SMS service that will increase children's access to the Helpline, in particular meeting the needs of children with disabilities such as hearing impairments. Currently, Childline in Ireland operates a free text/ sms service that has been very successful in receiving calls for help from children who are deaf and other children who do not have the money to make a call.