Women and children get less service, more information from 109

Very few women have received medical facilities, counselling (for both personal and mental issues) and legal and police help

National Helpline 109

Women and children victims of torture are not getting the expected services after calling the National Helpline 109, reveals an study of the cases registered over the last 10 years. In most of the cases, the service seekers got information. A very few women received medical care facilities, counselling (in personal and metal issues) and legal and police assistances.

An analysis of nearly 725,000 phone calls made to the helpline 109 in 2022 revealed that as many as 95 per cent service seekers received only information from the centre, not services. Besides, an analysis of phone calls received since the centre’s inauguration over 10 years ago showed that such instances are 70 per cent.

There is nothing much to do other than provide information to the victims and service seekers because of the lack of an adequate workforce and means to provide assistance directly, said people involved with the helpline centre. As a result, the helpline is not very popular. Many people do not even know about the number.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about this, Fauzia Moslem, president of Bangladesh Mohila Parishad said, “To make the helpline more effective, initiative has to be taken to ensure providing assistance to the victims directly instead of providing only information or counselling. The victims also have to be provided with social and psycho-social assistance. The ministry’s capacity has to be increased for this. Many more victims will be interested to make calls if direct assistance facilities are increased.”

Quality of service

A woman from the capital city’s Mohakhali told this correspondent on 31 January that she has a four-month-old child. Her husband, Md. Enamul, beat her and turned her out of the house when she was pregnant. Her husband is not providing any financial assistance to either her or her child.

She further said that she has filed a case but yet to get any redressal. Though her husband owns a home in Dhaka, she has been suffering along with her two children.

She said she had no idea about 109, when the Prothom Alo correspondent asked her about the national helpline.

The correspondent contacted the woman after two days. She said she phoned at 109 and told them her situation. After listening to her, the service provider advised her to contact a lawyer, going to a court near Sadarghat in Dhaka (Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal). But she does not know who to meet and how.

There are nine projects of the woman and children affairs ministry aimed at taking immediate action regarding torture of woman and children. One of them is providing assistance to the victims through the national helpline, 109. Initially the helpline number was 10921 in 2012. The number was changed to 109 in 2017. The helpline was made toll free in 2014. However, sending SMS to the helpline requires money.

The Prothom Alo correspondent phoned to the helpline number on 3 February to know how an acid-attack victim woman would get help but found all the lines busy. Later, the correspondent sent an SMS but no one contacted her as of filing of this report.

Same with OCC

The victims who phone to 109 are provided with counselling, and medical assistance from 14 government medical college hospitals through One Stop Crisis Centre (OCC).

Other assistance including police and legal assistance are provided through 67 OCCs from a few district sadar hospitals and upazila health complexes. The service seekers are given information only as the OCC facility is available across the country.

Project director Nahid Monjura Afroz and in-charge of national helpline 109, Raisul Islam, declined to talk about the issues when this correspondent went to their offices.

Former director of the project Abul Hossain told Prothom Alo that ‘109’ was inaugurated to take the help the doorstep of the women and children who cannot come for the help on their own. There is a lack of adequate workforce to receive all the phone calls. People will lose interest if all the calls are not answered. That’s why it is necessary to answer every call.

He further said direct help is hardly provided as there is not enough OCCs. The project has been degraded to “B” class this FY (2022-23). Because of this the budget allocation has decreased by 25 per cent, he added.

Abul Hossain said as the project is important it is necessary to increase its time and budget.

* The report appeared in Prothom Alo print edition and has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza