CHILDLINE 1098 is a phone number that spells hope for millions of children across India. It is a 24-hour a day, 365 days a year, free, emergency phone service for children in need of aid and assistance. We not only respond to the emergency needs of children but also link them to relevant services for their long-term care and rehabilitation. We have, till date, connected to three million children across the nation offering them care and protection.
CHILDLINE India Foundation (CIF) is the nodal agency of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for setting up, managing and monitoring the CHILDLINE 1098 service all over the country. CIF is the sole agency/body responsible for establishing the CHILDLINE service across the country, monitoring of service delivery and finance, training, research and documentation, creating awareness, advocacy as well as resource generation for the service.
CHILDLINE first started as a field action project of the Department of Family and Child Welfare, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai, in June 1996. It was founded by Ms. Jeroo Billimoria, then a professor at TISS.
Ms. Billimoria started to interact with children staying on railway stations or at Mumbai's night shelters. Slowly, children in crisis began to contact her at any time of night and day. Although Ms Billimoria found validation in her work while answering and responding to the calls of children in need, she realised that it was not possible for her to respond to the hundreds of children who needed help.
She realised that a tele-helpline could solve the need expressed by the children on the streets – a need to have instant support when they are ill, injured or just want to talk to someone. What was required was a one-point contact that would quickly connect children to services that they need during or after a crisis.
Counting Down to 10...9...8!
When told about the idea for a crisis phone number, the children had genuine concerns: "We roam ten cities. How will we remember ten numbers?", "It costs money to make a phone call, what happens when we are broke?"
While the solution seemed simple, the realisation of that dream was a challenging journey in itself. It took three years, two dharnas by the children themselves and a threat of a hunger strike to finally establish 1098 as the national toll-free number for children.
However there seemed to be a problem. One that could have been perceived as minor but would have massive impact on the success of the plan. It was simply that ‘One-Zero-Nine-Eight' did not seem catchy enough for children to remember. There was no association with the number. Then a solution came from the children themselves. One of whom suggested to Ms. Billimoria to call it as ‘Ten-Nine-Eight’ instead!
As usual, children saw what grown-ups had failed to see and that’s the story of how ‘Dus-Nau-Aath’ came to be.
Once the street children understood that a logo would give the CHILDINE service a face, it would be their identity, and help other children recall 1098 in a flash - they were convinced about wanting a ‘bindaas’ (carefree) boy to be a part of the logo. They reasoned: "We know how to conceal our pain, have you ever seen us cry?"
A smiling child would send out another important message: If CHILDLINE didn't make children happy, would they call?
With strong motivations and dedication to make a child-friendly nation that guarantees the rights and protection of all children, CHILDLINE India Foundation was formed in 1999.
Between 1997 and 2000, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment agreed to fund CHILDLINE at the national level.The Government committed that by 2002, CHILDLINE would be in every Indian city with a population of 10 million.
In 2006-07, the Ministry for Women and Child Development (MWCD) granted the exclusive ‘Nodal Mother NGO’ status to CHILDLINE India Foundation in order to set up CHILDLINE services across the country.
Subsequently, CHILDLINE India Foundation became established as an umbrella organization to identify, provide support services and to monitor efficient service delivery of the centres at various locations. It serves as a link between the Ministry and the NGOs in the field.
The CHILDLINE 1098 service has received a special mention in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
As on 14th September, 2021 CHILDLINE services are now available to children across 602 cities and districts, covering over 83% of the Indian landscape. This is made possible through a well-integrated network of 1077 partner organisations and 144 Child Help Desks operating at railway stations and 6 at Bus Terminals. CHILDLINE operates centralised call centres from 6 regional locations.
CHILDLINE service not only plays the role of listening to the child but also aids in strengthening and moulding the current National Child Protection Mechanisms.
Railway CHILDLINE – a Unique Initiative
Covering 123,542 kms of tracks and 7,321 stations, India’s Railway network is one of the largest in the world running 9,143 trains every day and Railways carries over 23 million passengers daily.
The huge network, an important lifeline of the country, is often misused for human trafficking. This is the reason CHILDLINE and other organisations have advocated the need for focused programmes and special attention at important railway stations. Such transit points become key outreach areas for identifying and assisting children when they are most vulnerable.
In 2015-16, a unique initiative took shape and CHILDLINE Help Desks were set up at railway stations as an institutional mechanism. A partnership between two key ministries was formulated and other society partners came up with a common agenda to address vulnerability of children and prevent abuse. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was formulated and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Women and Child Development. To implement the SOP agreed upon, one of the instructions was to set up Child Help Desks/kiosks/booths at railway stations. These kiosks were set up to provide immediate attention to children who are found unaccompanied by adults, and hence address the issue of runaways, children in difficult circumstances and missing or abandoned children in a systematic manner. As of August 2021, 144 Child Help Desks are operating at railway stations across India.
What we do
At CHILDLINE, we follow an action process which starts at the first call and continues till the child in need of care and protection is safely rehabilitated. To put it simply, our work includes several stages which are:
1. Call 1098 – Any child or a concerned adult can dial the CHILDLINE 1098 helpline, which operates night and day.
2. Connected to CHILDLINE centre – The call is received by the CHILDLINE centre where details about the situation are taken from the caller and CHILDLINE units are mobilised if necessary.
3. Rescue in 60 minutes – Once CHILDLINE has enough details about child or children in distress, the CHILDLINE team rushes to help children within 60 minutes to bring children out of an emergency situation.
4. Intervention – Once CHILDLINE intervenes help the child, it works with multiple stakeholders such as police authorities, child protection boards, social workers and counsellors. Children’s consent and participation is an important component of this process from response to intervention.
5. Rehabilitation and Follow Up – After the interventions, to ensure the child’s continued safety, CHILDLINE proceeds to find long-term rehabilitation for the child. For this, the CHILDLINE team does constant follow ups with the child – meeting the family or the visiting the shelter if a child has beenb assigned to stay in one.
Vision & Mission
A child-friendly nation that guarantees the rights and protection of all children.
CHILDLINE aims to reach out to every child in need and ensure their rights and protection. Our four Cs model – Connect, Catalyze, Collaborate and Communicate – is the system that enables us to reach out to more and more children, every year.
Connect: Use technology to reach out to children.
Catalyze: Drive systems through active advocacy.
Collaborate: Integrate efforts between children, the state, civil society, corporates and community to build a child-friendly society.
Communicate : Make child protection everybody’s priority through effective communication.
Our guiding actions
We believe that:
Every Call Is Important
Although not every call at CHILDLINE is an emergency, but any call by a child or an adult is important and is taken seriously. Sometimes, street children who are especially cynical about helpline services make prank calls or get abusive. But it is also their way of testing us to see if they are taken seriously. We take these calls as an opportunity to convert the child’s cynicism in to faith in us. Treating blank calls seriously can turn the child into a potential caller in times of crisis. Sometimes adults call us for information. We take these calls as an opportunity to get these adults more involved in helping children.
The work of helping a child becomes meaningless if a child’s needs and opinions are ignored. We involve the child in the intervention process by asking him/her to identify the problem and help them formulate a solution. We never force a decision on them without their consent. We make sure that the child knows exactly what CHILDLINE can and cannot offer.
CHILDLINE Cannot Work Alone
A collaborative approach is needed due to the massive scale of efforts required to make issues relating to child rights important. So instead of creating a structure from the very beginning, we use the facilities already existing in the community. We try to involve all those already caring for children. We work with allied systems such as NGOs, the police, health authorities, educational institutes, hospitals and the Juvenile Justice Boards.
Need for Transparency & Accountability
For us, trust building is a continuous exercise. We work with partnerships serving several different needs. We also see the opportunity of learning from our mistakes and using them for further learning and growing. Acknowledging our mistakes and assigning clearly chalked out responsibilities helps us in being transparent and accountable. And this transparency starts right at the grassroots level when we make sure that the child has the right to know how much is spent on intervention in her or his case.
CHILDLINE has a unique public-private model of operation. It works in partnership between the Government of India, Department of Telecommunications, international organisations, voluntary agencies, academic institutes, the corporate sector, concerned individuals, children and the community.
Under its partnership model, CHILDLINE is the crucial link between children in need of care and protection and available services. For children with different needs who call in anytime and for anything, we act as a single-point contact to facilitate instant access to support, advice, active intervention or just a listening ear. We connect children in emergency to a well-connected network of services that already exist. No new shelter, hospital or infrastructure is built.
We believe that for a helpline to be successful and effective in reaching out to the millions of children deprived of their childhood, we need to work in a partnership framework.
A framework that recognizes that:
- A helpline cannot operate in isolation
- All partners involved in the helpline share a reciprocal relationship
- Each partner has clear and definite roles in the partnership model. This leads to a feeling of joint ownership towards the model
- All partners share the vision, mission and the success of the model.
Operational Structures and Processes
- CHILDLINE Contact Centre (CCC):
CHILDLINE Contact Centre (CCC) is a 24-hour, centralised call handling facility operating out of 5 different locations in India. Regional presence allows for calls to be answered in regional local languages. This facility operates 24X7 and handles 1 million calls each month. The calls are answered by trained contact center executives who are trained to handle these sensitive calls. The contact center connects to all the partners across the country to loop in their counsellors and transfer the call for local interventions. They are also connected to all the allied services like police, hospitals and other helplines, to patch their help whenever required.
It is an academic institute or a Non-Government Organisation which ensures coordination, training, research, documentation, awareness and advocacy. A city co-ordinator is supervised by the Nodal Director who ensures a protective environment for children at city level.
Emergency Intervention Centres – Collaborating Partners:
These are voluntary agencies, which function as the intervention units for CHILDLINE. The CCC responds to calls that are received on 1098 helpline and transfer the case to the collaborating partner who carry out further intervention processes. The centre co-ordinator manages a team that intervenes in emergency cases and conducts outreach and networking activities.
CHILDLINE Support Agencies/Sub-Centres:
CHILDLINE ‘ColLabourative’ Partner is also called the ‘ColLabourative’ Centre. There are roughly 5-7 sub-centres in districts (and 1-3 support agencies in cities) as per its specific needs, population and area size. A team of three CHILDLINE staff members assisted by two volunteers from the Mahila Samakhya members, anganwadi workers, teachers and women members of the panchayat assist the sub-centre staff at taluka and village levels. They follow up on children who have returned to their village and they provide information when children are being recruited. The staff members also help the local community to prevent child labour.
CHILDLINE Advisory Board Or District Advisory Committee (DAC):
The Board or the Committee is headed by the Collector and other members including the District Officers for Health and Education. Other NGOs stimulate the development of the programme in the district.
These organisations act as referral centres for CHILDLINE. They include various organisations and institutions that provide services for children or work on child issues. They also participate in outreach and awareness programs for CHILDLINE.