Child helplines can be vital in responding to children and young people in emergencies. Here are three such cases from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One night, while she was walking to the bakery to order bread for her mother, a 16-year-old girl was kidnapped by a group of youths who locked her up in an empty house on an isolated street. Here, they sexually assaulted her, threatening her with death if she screamed out for help, or if she told anyone about what had just happened…
Sometime later, the girl’s mother noticed that her daughter appeared to be gaining weight. After talking to her, the girl finally told her that she had been raped. She also told her the name of one of her abusers – she could still remember all of their faces.
Her mother had previously participated in an awareness campaign about child protection organised by RECOPE, so she knew how to call the 117 child helpline to report the case and ask for assistance. The Call Centre directed the family to the nearest police station and sent a social worker. The man accused of the rape had been arrested, but his own family was now trying to get the charges withdrawn by corrupt means.
The social worker intervened to ensure that the case was transferred to the tribunal as quickly as possible. All of the men accused of the rape have now been transferred to a central prison. The girl, meanwhile, was directed to a health centre for a medical examination. As her mother had guessed, the girl was indeed pregnant, but she received the appropriate care, making sure that both she and her unborn child were in good health.
A 4-year-old girl was playing in a neighbouring plot when a young man who was living there lured her into his apartment. After looking for her everywhere, the child’s mother found her inside the 25-year-old’s apartment, where she was half undressed. The man had sexually assaulted the little girl.
The mother knew about the 117 child helpline because one of her neighbours had participated in an awareness campaign in their district. She called the number, and a few hours later, social workers arrived at the site. They escorted the abuser to a nearby police station, and he currently remains in custody. The girl was transferred to a health centre where she received medical examinations and proper health care.
When a member of RECOPE visited a church to raise awareness about the 117 helpline number, one of the participants seized the opportunity to contact the helpline and report her situation. An abandoned orphan, she had been infected with typhoid, and was struggling without any support or hope for recovery.
She had been living with her brother, but at the end of the rental period, he left for an unknown destination. She was expelled from the house by the landlord, and made the local church her home. She soon fell seriously ill, but thanks to the financial support made available by the church’s pastor she was able to go to hospital to be treated.
However, she returned home before she had fully recovered, as this financial support was not enough for her to stay at the hospital for very long. Just a few weeks later, her wounds became badly infected again. The girl lost her appetite and became very thin. The pastor didn’t have the means to help her a second time.
The same day that she reported her plight to the child helpline, a social worker was sent to monitor the situation. With emergency funds made available by War Child UK, the girl was taken to a hospital where she underwent surgery. Ten days later, she left the hospital, and today she is healthy and has been placed with a foster family.
These are heart-rending stories of personal tragedies, but without the services of the 117 helpline they could all have ended far, far worse. The child helpline in DRC continues to listen, continues to save lives, and continues to bring justice to those who need it.