Childline, India’s first free, emergency helpline for children in need of care and protection turned 15 on June 20, 2011. Childline is similar to the 911 service but targeted at children, with a special focus on marginalized children. What started as a simple helpline for street kids to call when in trouble in Mumbai – “Didi (sister), can you come? There’s been a fight at the station.” has now expanded to 150 plus locations, across 26 states of India including the far south Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Childline processes over 2.5 million calls annually, not only providing emergency response but also digging deep into the problem to ensure long-term safety for the child.
We spoke to the CEO of Childline, Kajol Menon to learn how they managed to achieve this massive, pervasive growth despite the constrains of a nonprofit with limited financial resources.
DC: How big is Childline today?
KM: Childline is everywhere and there is a new center being opened everyday. We are currently in more than 150 locations, across 26 states, receiving over 2.5 million calls annually, working with a network of 380 grass-root partners and a staff of 2500 people.
DC: What are the key factors that propelled the growth of Childline?
KM: Just last year we jumped from 82 to 153 call centers. The explosive growth that we’ve seen is due to our years of bull headed lobbying with the central government that they have now recently in 2009 approved the Child Protection Scheme which means that the government of India is now mandated to provide for children in need. With the coming of the Child Protection Scheme, Childline India Foundation has been made the national service delivery organization and sufficient funds have been allocated by the govt to meet the goals. Our second biggest achievement which has dramatically helped keep our service updated with the changing times is the Dept of Telecom recognition of Childline’s 1098 number as a category 1 number, which means all private cellular service providers are now mandated to provide free connectivity to the number (1098), making it easy for people to immediately call Childline when they see a child in distress . Again this has come as a result of over 7 years of steady lobbying with the Telecom Dept and other service providers. Our success mantra has been consistent lobbying and partnerships with all needed to build an extensive support network for children.
DC: Wow this is huge, so what’s next now?
KM: We want to grow from being just a reactive helpline service to more proactively creating a protective net for children everywhere. We want to span out into the rural areas and work at that level to minimize risk of abuse. Often children from rural areas are brought into the city to work as child labor, we want to work at the village level to make sure they don’t end up in vulnerable situations. Also as we scale our focus is to use technology in everything we do to make our operations smoother and efficient. Tata Consulting Services (TCS) has been of great help and we are continuing to evolve our technology infrastructure with their support.
To fully understand what Childline is and how it works, a great introduction to Childline by actor Kabir Bedi
You can also read about the early days of Childline at http://www.childlineindia.org.in/1098/CHILDLINE-15th-anniversary.htm