Part One: A Call for Harmonisation
Today marks the 16th anniversary of the 116 xyz numbers – the numbers of social value in the European Union. For children and young people, having a short, easy-to-remember number to access child helpline support is essential, as it helps make safe and confidential support from child helplines much more accessible to them. In Europe, this number is 116 111. But how did this harmonised number for child helplines come about? Why is it so important for children, and what issues do our child helpline members using the 116 111 number currently face?
116 xyz – Numbers of Social Value
Let’s begin by exploring the beginnings of the 116 xyz numbers. On this day, 15 February, back in 2007, the European Commission published its decision to reserve national telephone numbers beginning with the digits 116, to allow for harmonised numbers across the EU that would provide EU citizens with harmonised services of social value.
This major achievement was the result of intense lobbying for the reservation of harmonised, easy-to-remember and toll-free numbers, both in the EU and across the wider European region, by the then still relatively young Child Helpline International network and our child rights partners. Our team visited Brussels at the end of 2005 to lobby Members of the European Parliament for a petition supporting child helplines in the EU. With the assistance of MEP Lissy Gröner, we obtained around 200 signatures of MEPs.
A defining moment following this advocacy by our network and our partners came on 17 January 2007, when the world’s First Ladies met in Paris to call for international action to protect children from abduction and sexual abuse. The meeting coincided with the imminent launch of a pan-European number – 116 – and the launch of the 116 000 number for missing children on 15 February 2007. The 116 111 number for child helplines was reserved later in that year, on 29 October 2007, followed by the harmonised number 116 006 for helplines for victims of crime on November 30, 2009. Two other numbers – 116 123 for emotional support helplines and 116 117 for non-emergency medical on-call service were also reserved.
116 111 is currently operational in 23 out of 27 EU Member States, and additionally in seven other European states – see the list here. Child helplines, trusted by the children and young people who rely upon their services, are an essential part of national child protection systems, integration of services, and key in promoting and protecting children’s rights. You can find out more about the reasons why children and young people contact child helplines in our data reports.
While many child helplines in Europe have access to the resources they need in order to provide free, accessible, high-quality support directly to children and young people, this isn’t the case for all of them. There are also several technical issues with 116 111 that must be resolved. Furthermore, the awareness of 116 111, and the importance of child helpline services among national and regional policy makers, is lacking in some countries.
A Call to Action
We call upon national governments to engage directly with their national child helpline to provide the necessary resources for sustainable, high-quality operations. We call on telecoms, mobile operators and industry partners to ensure that the 116 111 number and text-based services are freely accessible for all children, also those who are travelling in the European Union. We also call on the European Commission to further recognise the role of child helplines in the promoting and protection of children’s rights, including updating the European Electronic Communications Code and the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse.
Regional Manager, Europe
We will continue the Story of 116 111 throughout the year, before celebrating its 16th Anniversary on 29 October 2023.