November 30, 2023 Gaborone.
Photo: Children solemnly hold candles adorned with flags representing various African countries, commemorating a moment of silence in honor of those children affected by hunger, homelessness, and the scourge of conflict across the continent and around the globe. This poignant scene serves as a poignant reminder of the myriad challenges faced by children today.
Every two-years, child helplines from across the two regions (Africa & MENA) meet to reflect on the state of children and young people in their countries, their contribution to creating a safe environment for children, as well as share experiences and best practice in the provision of services for the children. The Regional Consultation brings together child helplines as well as government representatives, intergovernmental organisations, funding bodies, and development partners.
C-Sema attended this year’s consultation that took place between 27th and 30th, under the theme “All on Board Towards a World Fit for Children; Leveraging on Child Helplines in the Africa and MENA Region.”
Photo: A diverse group of panelists engages in a focused discussion during the regional consultations, each contributing unique insights and perspectives to the discourse.
Here are a few quick takeaways from the conference that our readers may find useful. First it is interesting to know that there are 34 helplines in Africa, meaning that there are still 21 countries in the continent without helplines. That all existing helplines in Africa have adopted the harmonized free of cost number 116 and that about 80% of all helplines in Africa offer their service via both voice and online platforms.
You may also be interested in the latest (trends) reasons why children and young people contact the helplines in Africa. About 34% of all contacts to the helplines in Africa are on mental health. 19% of young people use (contact) helplines to report incidences of violence and most children and young people contact the helplines as a bridge to access social services in their respective communities.
The evidence from across the region suggests that children and young people need urgent investments by our governments in the areas of mental health, a global crisis that is now hitting close to our homes. The stats call for an immediate investment in setting up helplines in the 22 countries that helplines are not yet established. And lastly, the stats tell us that violence against children remains a problem in most of our countries in the continent.
Yet another key takeaway is the recommendations that came out of children’s sessions. Children across Africa recommend multiple strategies to promote awareness about helplines, particularly 116 services. Their suggestions include public education via billboards, posters, and school programs, engaging stakeholders like churches and schools, hosting community events like Sunday soccer, organizing visits to helplines, and conducting frequent rural awareness campaigns. ‘These approaches would enhance helpline visibility and accessibility, ensuring effective support reaches those in need.’
Children also advocated for several reporting channels to voice their concerns effectively. They propose training trusted community elders to assist children in handling issues, advocating for public phones accessible to children without personal devices, and creating child-friendly service offices staffed by youth representatives. These recommendations aim to establish reliable and comfortable reporting avenues for children facing various challenges.
With recommended strategies from children across Africa to promote awareness about helplines, the imperative now lies with individual country Child Helplines to execute these resolutions adeptly, creatively, and judiciously as they prepare for upcoming consultations, embodying innovation and wisdom in their implementation strategies.
Prepared by C-Sema's Communication Team.