LESOTHO: Helpline allows children to report abuse
Mpho Thaele, 19, is an orphan who has been selling sex on the streets of Maseru for the past two years
johannesburg, 13 June 2007 (IRIN) - Children in Lesotho will soon be able to report abuse simply by picking up the phone, thanks to a new helpline being piloted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Lesotho Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
"We are piloting it in Maseru [the capital] this year, and it will be a free, 24-hour telephone service," Nafisa Binte-Shafique, UNICEF Lesotho's youth and adolescent development specialist, told IRIN/PlusNews.
The helpline is a result of a UNICEF-supported study released recently by the family health department of Lesotho's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
"According to information from the CGPU [child and gender protection unit], child abuse is rampant, particularly coercive sex and rape; girls are abused every day, usually by people they know," Binte-Shafique said.
The study found that orphaned
children and girls were at particular risk of abuse, exploitation and discrimination. The death of a parent, being beaten, lack of empathy from parents following rape and neglect were among the main reasons children gave for sometimes being "sad". Lesotho
has an estimated 180,000 orphans, 100,000 of whom lost their parents to AIDS.
More than 90 percent of the children interviewed felt it was important to listen to their opinions. "Children are often raped and treated badly, especially orphans, so listening to our opinions is important to protect us from these problems," one 16-year-old girl told interviewers.
About 78 percent of children surveyed said they would call a helpline, while 81 percent had access to a phone, even in rural areas. Binte-Shafique said the service would have two lines – one mobile and one landline – and would have an easy-to-remember number.
"The first service provided will be telephone counselling, then the counsellors refer rape cases to the police and ministry of health, corporal punishment to the police and ministry of social welfare, and so on," she said, adding that girls who were raped would be directed to health centres where they could receive post-exposure prophylaxis.
Despite a 2001 Ministry of Health and Social Welfare study warning that sexual abuse against children was extremely common in Lesotho, social and familial pressure on children not to testify means most cases do not reach the courts and most abusers are not punished.
Binte-Shafique said recently the ministry had been raising awareness across the country about the channels available for abused children to get justice. "We hope that with the referral system the telephone service will use, we will be able to make sure these cases are all followed up properly," she added.
UNICEF is currently training child-friendly counsellors and searching for partners such as telecommunication providers and a non-governmental organisation to house the helpline.