Helpline for harried and hounded kids
Broken family, alcoholic father, poverty and parental neglect are the common causes of children fleeing their homes. Once out of home, these less fortunate ones do not wish to go back, come what may.
"Hello 1098? This is Kiran calling from Siripuram, I am lonely and helpless, please give me shelter".
"Hello brother, I am Vinay speaking from Marripalem, please rescue me from the clutches of
"I am Ramu calling from the railway station, please help".
These types of calls keep ringing round the clock at Childline. A child in distress, a street child, those in need of help or a concerned adult can dial that toll-free number from any public or
private telephone and seek succour. Childline has reached hundreds of such children.
Initiated as a field action project of the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Sciences, in 1996, Childline takes care of street children who are made aware of their rights to survival, protection, participation and development.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment took it over in 1998, and today Childline operates in about 40 cities and towns all over India. Childline India Foundation is the nodal organisation for Childlines across the nation.
In Visakhapatnam, it was started on a trial basis on January 22, 2001, to meet the needs of street children and those in difficult circumstances. The project is being implemented under the Departmental Research Support programme of the University Grants Commission through the Department of Social Work in Andhra University in association with Priyadarshini Service Organisation, a city NGO.
"Children call us for various reasons---from seeking direct help to just sharing their problem with someone who cares. Sometimes they call and ask whether we have seen a particular film and our
opinion of it. We engage them in conversation and try to extract as much detail as possible to know whether they are really in distress or otherwise," says the city coordinator of Childline Nodal, Vijaya Bhavani. Broken families, alcoholic father, poverty and neglect by parents are the common causes of children fleeing their homes. Once out of their homes, the street children do not wish to go back, come what may, she says.
Shanmukh, 14, was pushed out of the moving Konark Express after the train crossed the Godavari station (Rajahmundry). He fell on the track and was badly bruised on the face, with fingers cut. He was brought to Childline on July 15. "I do not wish to go home until my wounds heal as my mother would be heart-broken, if she sees me in this condition," says Shanmukh with tears welling up in his eyes. His parents are labourers, and his brother and sister had fled home in the past. He was employed in a wine shop in Old Town area where he used to get Rs.400 a month. He has no complaints against his employer. However, the adolescent boy obviously could not adapt himself to the life at the wine shop and decided to flee the city.
He boarded the Konark Express and was travelling sitting on the steps of a coach. An inhuman TTE kicked the ticketless boy from behind and he fell out of the train.
Raja Ali (10), a native of Khurda in Orissa, lost both his parents in an accident two years ago. There was none to take care of him and he made the Khurda Road station his home.
He used to sweep the platform and the coaches and earn about Rs. 50 a day.
"A huge tree fell on our house and the roof caved in killing both my parents. I was severely injured on the head and lost consciousness. When I got back my senses, I realised that I was all alone", recounts Raja. He came to Visakhapatnam station on July 15 and was picked up by a Childline staff member and lodged at the Priyadarshini shelter home. He feels like a fish out of water at the home. He wants to go back to Khurda Road and start his sweeping work afresh.
In another case, a runaway boy was restored to his parents by Childline. The boy, R. Vamsi Krishna (14), was in the habit of running away from home. In August 2001, he boarded a train and landed in Howrah. The centre coordinator of Kolkata Childline, Sandeep, came across the boy and on inquiry found that he was from Visakhapatnam. The message was passed on to Vizag Childline, and the parents were located. The boy was later handed over to them.
A 20-year youth was lying on a platform in Visakhapatnam station. Clothes in tatters and poor personal hygiene indicated that he did not have a bath for several days. People were rushing up and down the platform but none had either the inclination or the time to attend on him. An attendant of the telephone booth situated on the platform dialled 1098 and informed Childline. The boy was brought to Childline and given a wash. He was not even in a position to sit on the floor but managed to give some of his personal details.
He was Srikanth, a native of Kothagudem. He refused to disclose information about his parents saying "They do not need me". The boy was shifted to the King George Hospital for treatment on October 24, 2001. He died while undergoing treatment the next day. Information was sent to the Kothagudem police but none came to claim the body.
The ward boys had demanded money for shifting the body to the mortuary. When the Childline volunteer, who was attending on the boy, said he had no money, the ward boys refused to touch the body. When the volunteer tried to shift the body himself, the wardboy, perhaps realising their mistake, lent a helping hand.
The Childline phone will be manned round the clock by its team members in shifts. While one member replies to the calls, the other goes out to meet and bring the child in distress to Childline. When the victim is a girl child, women members are sent to bring her, says the centre coordinator, Basaveswara Rao.
Childline organises awareness programmes in government and municipal schools to create greater awareness about the organisation. The rescued children are shifted to shelter homes run by various voluntary organisations.
Unfortunately, there is no home to provide shelter to girl children in distress. They are at present being lodged temporarily at the short-stay home for girls run by the Pragathi Charitable Trust. The voluntary organisations provide vocational training to the rescued children in automobile repairing, hotel service, welding works and other areas depending on their interest. "We also talk to private entrepreneurs and secure jobs for these children, but caution the employer of the possibility of the child running away. Some of the street children have been encouraged to open bank accounts to save their hard-earned money," says the vocational incharge of Priyadarshini, J. Seshagiri.
B. MADHU GOPAL
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