An information centre at the capital's Lalbagh. Photo Courtesy: Aparajeyo Bangla
The couple was frantically looking for their five-year-old child in the corridors of the launch, bound for Barisal. They realised, a little later, that their little girl went missing in the rush while boarding the launch at Sadarghat.
Meanwhile back at the Sadarghat terminal, the lost child was crying her eyes out as she could not find any familiar face in the crowd.
Fortunately, for the traumatised child in such unkind surroundings, there was a tea stall vendor who took notice of her. This vendor is a volunteer for the NGO Aparajeyo Bangladesh's project called Child Helpline that helps lost and distressed children.
The vendor contacted the Child Helpline and soon afterwards, the child was united with her family in Narayanganj on Eid day.
"A child getting lost in crowds is not an uncommon scenario in Bangladesh and unfortunately dangers in the guise of child traffickers and molesters are on the prowl for such opportune moment to make their move. A scary thought indeed but it is exactly to counter such frightful act social workers and volunteers of Child Helpline stay vigilant at these places as well,” says Tanzima Taslim, Documentation and Publication Officer, Child Helpline.
“Child Helpline is the first toll-free land line number in Bangladesh and anyone can dial 1098 within the project area that covers 8 police stations -- namely Motijheel, Paltan, Lalbagh, Chakbazar, Bongshal, Kotwali, Sutrapur, Shyampur and 20 wards of Old Dhaka. Its services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And others outside the project area can call from mobiles or landlines on 027312340,” says Tanzima.
“We want to set up booths at Gabtoli bus terminal and Kamalapur station similar to our Sadarghat launch terminal mobile rescue booth. With the help of police we make special provisions during festivals and keep vigil at these points,” she adds.
However there are a few challenges and difficulties faced by the project. These include accessing the 1098 toll free number from mobile phones, providing information in a short time, domestic violence case intervention and access to children, support to disabled children, referrals in a short time, safe shelters for boys, rescues and referrals from outside the project area.
“We are pursuing mobile operators to give us a toll free number because we believe that if we had a mobile number, our outreach would have multiplied,” says Russel Ahmed Sojib, Child Rights Officer of Aparajeyo Bangladesh. Mobile operators are yet to lend a hand to the project.
The project has very elaborate and earnest awareness building and outreach programmes, namely school awareness sessions and peer team formations, human chains, campaigns at different programmes and distribution of awareness materials. Besides, visiting religious institutes to raise awareness through khutba during Friday prayers, meeting with Imams, NGO representatives, teachers, guardians, and social clubs/panchaet members are also done.
“The social workers also visit health care centres, factories, launch terminals, police stations and victim support centres. They also arrange for night field visits and maintain regular contact with mobile recharge shops and local grocery shops which help them to locate children at risk and in need of help quite effectively. Along with all these awareness building steps, Child Helpline has a help desk at every Ward Secretary's office throughout the project area,” says Russel.
Interactive popular theatre is another means to build awareness where child actors interact and ask the audience questions and get their opinions regarding the project.
The Child Helpline office is situated inside the Mahanagar Shishu Hospital premises at Lalbagh. The Dhaka City Corporation gave the project a rent-free room for its official use and the project is funded by UNICEF.