CHANHASSEN, Minnesota — According to Global Citizen, police filed more than 6,000 reports of child abuse in Tanzania in the first half of 2018. Nine out of 10 of these cases included some form of sexual violence. In response, the Tanzanian government has developed more thorough child security protocols. In 2017, the government established the Five-year National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children. However, the goals of this program have yet to be achieved. Despite the initiatives, issues in enforcement, cultural attitudes and provision of resources for victims have prevented this legislation from completely eliminating violence perpetuated against children. In hopes to give these children the aid they deserve, The National Child Helpline has been working nonstop to fight the ongoing violence against children in Tanzania.
The National Child Helpline
In 2013, the nonprofit C-Sema began working with the government of Tanzania and Child Helpline International. Through this combined effort, the partnership established The National Child Helpline. The helpline is a toll-free government number that provides confidential support to children, especially those vulnerable to abuse. It has been vital in ensuring citizens’ welfare and addressing violence against children in Tanzania.
The National Child Helpline addresses issues through direct contact with children, allowing for more focused solutions. It operates within two contact centers, one in Dar es Salaam and one in Zanzibar. The centers receive approximately 3,500 calls each day on a myriad of issues. A 2016 C-Sema report outlines the types of cases the helpline receives, including violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. The National Child Helpline’s trained child counselors also receive calls asking for advice on social or psychological issues. If necessary, counselors can refer children to local authorities or social welfare agents.
The Borgen Project spoke to Michael Marwa, director of The National Child Helpline, about the helpline’s development and impact. Marwa explained the importance of establishing a space where children feel comfortable and could “talk freely and confidentially to a personal counselor.” He also highlighted C-Sema’s advocacy and outreach programs, including working with local authorities on child protection methods and conducting school visits to strengthen relationships with youth. “[Meeting a child in person] builds rapport and also increases trust,” said Marwa. “We believe that if you meet one child who called us and used our service, maybe this child will be a good ambassador in their school and will multiply the effect of the work we do.”
The National Child Helpline During the Pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, counselors could not work within call centers or provide in-person aid due to health risks. However, children still needed help. According to Marwa, the helpline received more than one million calls in 2020, a large spike from the previous year. The increased demand was most likely due to close contact with abusers increasing during quarantine.
Despite these unexpected challenges, C-Sema developed new training methods to address violence against children in Tanzania during the pandemic. With the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the nonprofit was able to hire more counselors to answer calls. The UNFPA also provided protective equipment and facilitated training in psychological support and pandemic procedures. Additionally, Marwa stated that C-Sema set up VPN systems to allow counselors to work remotely. Though the conditions were unexpected, he stressed the importance of the helpline’s work and his confidence in its ability to adapt. “A child helpline is an essential service,” said Marwa. “They need to be operational even during a difficult situation because children need to call us for comfort and for anything else.”
The Future of the Helpline
C-Sema’s strategic plan for 2021-2025 outlines its mission to protect the well-being of all children in Tanzania. This includes strengthening ties between The National Child Helpline and child protective services. Additionally, the organization wants to promote better nutrition and positive parenting. C-Sema also aims to improve its outreach programs and continue data collection on cases, so government initiatives can be more effective in mitigating violence against children in Tanzania. Overall, The National Child Helpline is an imperative service fighting for the improved health and welfare of children in need.
– Sarah Stolar