The success of ChildLine – 1098, the helpline providing emergency rescue services for children in distress is evident in the number of cases it handles every day.
Welfare Committee chairperson P. Manorama told The Hindu that due to the active child rescue operation co-ordinated by the helpline, between 60 and 80 new cases of children in need of care and protection are reported in a month.
“This is the highest number of cases reported from any Indian city. It has become possible because various government agencies have come together in an effort to rescue children from abusive situations,” she said. “More members of the public must come forward to report cases of children in distress,” she said.
Cases of child labour and runaway children are relatively higher in the city, she said. Recently two 16-year-old girls were found employed as servants in a ladies hostel in Velachery and rescued by members of ChildLine. ChildLine India senior programme coordinator R. Sahayaraj said the team members received a tip-off from a social worker and found the two girls working in the kitchen of the hostel after investigation.
“Once their age was established as below 18, we produced them before the Child Welfare Committee and warned the hostel not to employ children there any longer,” he said. However, different definitions of a ‘child’ in different laws pose challenges to the rescue workers.
While the Child Labour (Regulation & Prohibition) Act says children less than 14 years should not be employed in hazardous occupations which include domestic work, the Juvenile Justice Act defines anyone under the age of 18 as a child.
These conflicting definitions have allowed for a large number of children between the age of 14 and 18 to be employed and the employer going unpunished,” said Chandra Thanikachalam of the Indian Council for Child Welfare, one of the three NGOs coordinating the ChildLine.
Area of concern
Another area of concern has been a large number of children selling items such as ear buds, towels and water packets at traffic signals and other crowded public areas in the city.
“To put an end to this, greater participation is needed from members of the public,” Ms. Thanikachalam added.
The most important contribution of ChildLine has, indeed, been towards ensuring compulsory primary education of children.
“When the same child is found begging more than once, we do not return them to their parents. We enrol them in the juvenile homes to ensure that the child studies and is not forced into an abusive situation again,” she said.
Recalling an incident, Ms.Manorama of the CWC said, “A few months ago when The Hindu front-paged a report of child rag-pickers in Perungudi, officials of ChildLine and Labour Department faced much resistance in their efforts to rehabilitate them.
“The rescued children and their parents were initially hostile towards any kind of intervention. But today those children are in school and they are studying well,” she said. That is the kind of change we want to bring about, she summed up.
(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, dated Jun 29, 2009)