Wednesday 17 May marks this year’s International Child Helpline Day. It also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to launch a series of special features throughout the year – up to and including World Children’s Day on 20 November – in which we can celebrate 20 years of Child Helpline International and the work of our amazing child helpline members.
And who better to invite to write the first of these special features, to commemorate this special day and this fantastic year, than our very own founder: the incredible Jeroo Billimoria.
I started my work with street kids in India during the 1990s by listening. When I spoke to the kids and gave them my phone number, I heard a very clear message again and again: social workers are here from 9-5, but we need someone 24/7. When we fall sick in the night, have the police coming after us, or are sleeping alone on the streets remembering our families… we need someone who cares, someone to call.
This is how the idea for Childline India – and the global movement to put child helplines at the centre of child protection – came to be. It is also how we began our journey from child rescue to rehabilitation and protection. Through this collaborative work, we have spent the last 20 years working to create the systems and structures for preventing child neglect, abuse and exploitation all around the world.
In the year 2001, representatives from 20 countries came together in Pune, India, to brainstorm how the models of child helplines that had been created by and for the global south could be replicated and popularized in other countries. This international consultation was characterized by its spirit of inclusivity, as we shared India’s journey and learnings, along with other countries, for global co-creation of the child helpline movement. We were interested in looking beyond just rescue and rehabilitation, and this gathering produced strategies for placing child protection policies on the national and global agenda.
In 2003, the first international consultation meeting took place in Amsterdam, where 49 existing and potential child helplines from Europe and all over the world were represented. Child Helpline International was founded during this meeting, to create collective impact protecting the privacy and safety of children in direct response to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Before this, most developing countries did not have integrated systems for child helplines; Childline India was a badly needed model which has been widely replicated throughout the world.
Now, Child Helpline International brings together child helplines in 135 countries and territories globally. Child helplines take over 13 million calls each year, providing counselling to nearly 3 million children and young people from all over the world. Over the past 20 years, child helplines worldwide have been contacted over 200 million times, with nearly a fifth of the young people reaching out to report abuse and violence, most often committed by an immediate family member.
These numbers speak volumes. In 2019, I realized that the movement for child protection needed more strong data for advocacy. After nearly two years of collaboration with the nonprofit Tech Matters, we launched Aselo as an incubation project of One Family Foundation. This tech solution helps to manage helplines, record and analyze data and track cases.
After Child Helpline International gathered in Sweden during the autumn of 2022, and as we have gained data from Aselo, child helplines’ crucial role in ensuring children receive help that is specific and appropriate to their culture and conditions became clearer still. Therefore, at Catalysing Change Week this year, members of the Catalyst 2030 network who focus on child protection and some child helplines have launched a coalition to ensure that minimum quality standards for child protection are met universally and to launch the decade of prevention.
Looking back at the progress and positive outcomes from child helplines over the past two decades, it is clear that incredible strides have been made in ensuring no child goes unheard. The data from these decades has also revealed the extent of challenges facing children and young people, from violence to mental health concerns to problems in their families.
In the next decade we will continue to advocate for child helplines being part of national and regional child protection services. We also hope that family and community structures and systems will play their role in ensuring quality care, wellbeing and safety for every child. Ultimately we hope that, before the end of the next decade, every child will become so safe that there are no longer any children or young people left unprotected or unsupported, no children are living on the streets, no children are suffering from abuse or exploitation. Then, our promise will have been truly fulfilled!
Founder, Child Helpline International
Jeroo is an Indian social entrepreneur and the founder of several other NGOs as well as Child Helpline International. Jeroo and her family founded One Family Foundation. which incubates social innovations, in 2018.
One Family Foundation anchors Catalyst 2030,
a movement initiated by leading social entrepreneurs from Ashoka, Echoing Green, the Schwab Foundation, the
Skoll Foundation and other global networks of social entrepreneurs. The network is inclusive and is rapidly expanding to include governments, funders, bilateral organisations, multilateral organisations and others seeking the timely achievement of the
Sustainable Development Goals.