Let’s talk about violence…

Without child helplines, many children and young people would have nowhere to turn to. And this is especially the case during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Child Helpline International’s Executive Director Patrick Krens reflects on the findings of our report on global child helpline data from 2019, and their implications in the age of Covid-19.

27-year-old social worker Claire picks up the phone to Joe* – a distressed 8-year-old boy. Like many children and young people who contact the child helpline he’s shy at first, but Claire gently builds up his trust, showing an interest in his hobbies and his favourite subjects at school. He begins to open up and eventually he reveals that he has two classmates who constantly beat a friend of his. “They call him a freak and beat him because of the colour of his skin.”

Joe says he’s afraid to get involved in the situation as he is worried that he could be beaten as well. Claire listens to him carefully and praises him for telling her about his concerns. She creates a plan of action so that his parents, the parents of the bullied classmate, the teacher and the school psychologist can all be informed about the situation. She also prepares official letters to the education department of the district and to the juvenile department of the police for further action.

Sadly this case isn’t unique. Child helpline counsellors around the world are picking up the phones and responding to messages from children and young people who are experiencing and being threatened with physical, emotional and sexual violence on a daily basis. Our latest report ‘Voices of Children and Young People Around the World’ shows that violence was one of the main reasons children and young people contacted child helplines in 2019. One out of every four times a child or young person contacted a child helpline, it was because of a concern related to violence. In total, around the world, a shocking 481,000 contacts were made to child helplines about violence in 2019.

This situation has worsened since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a result of school closures and lockdowns. Restrictions of movement have meant, for some children, that they are exposed more frequently to violence and abuse, and this has often gone  unchecked. Some of our member child helplines have witnessed dramatic surges in the number of calls. At Childline UK, the average number of Childline counselling sessions about domestic abuse and abuse increased by 22% in July 2020, and at Childline Kenya by 21% compared to pre-lockdown levels. In just 11 days during March 2020, Childline India received over 92,000 calls from children asking for protection from abuse and violence.

Now more than ever before, the pressures exerted by Covid-19 on social, health and child protection systems has seen child helplines come to the forefront, and other actors like UNICEF, The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, and the Inter-Agency Working Group for Violence Against Children are recognising more than ever their necessity and intrinsic value. It is simple: without child helplines, many children and young people would have nowhere to turn.

Violence and abuse against children is alarmingly widespread. It’s no secret that the ramifications of child abuse and violence last for generations. According to our member Childhelp, around 30% of abused children will go on to abuse their own children in later years, while 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder. It’s an issue that the International Community must work together to act upon.

This should begin with ensuring every child around the world has free and unrestricted access to child helpline services. This means governments and the ICT sector should support child helplines to ensure they are accessible to all children and young people. Child helplines should be strengthened through investments in infrastructure, offsetting service costs, and funding and support should be made available to raise awareness of child helplines in a child-friendly manner to ensure children and young people know where they can access child helplines and seek support about violence and abuse. It is also essential that governments, child protection agencies and thematic expert organisations work with child helplines to promote their services as a low-threshold entry point into national child protection systems. Structured partnerships are needed to establish clear referral pathways and interventions to protect children from violence.  

In our new report you can find out more about these alarming figures and what we can do to help. Remember, these cases are not just numbers on a page: Each one represents a child with hopes, dreams and futures ahead of them. They are children just like 8-year old Joe, whose bravery and determination helped him to reach out to Claire. We must now consider what we want our legacy for him to be. It is essential that we protect our children now and in generations to come.

 

By Child Helpline International’s Executive Director, Patrick Krens

 

Read our latest report Voices of Children and Young People Around the World: 

You can read our report online here. 

You can download a printable, page-by-page version of our report here. 

Résumé exécutif 

Resumen ejecutivo 

 

* Please note, all names and identifying features have been removed from this case study to respect confidentiality and maintain the anonymity of those involved.