The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has recommended the establishment of a telephone outreach line in Lesotho to help prevent abuse, violence and exploitation of the country's young people.
“A child helpline offers a tremendous opportunity to establish a long-lasting protective environment for children,” said Anne-Marie Fonseka, Programme Coordinator, UNICEF Lesotho. “Abuse, neglect, HIV and AIDS, conflict with the law and social challenges facing children should be topics of ongoing discussion.”
The impact of HIV and AIDS on the development of children in Lesotho is compounded by factors such as poverty, abuse, violence and exploitation, the agency said, citing the results of a study it conducted of 500 individuals, mainly children, throughout the country.
About 94 per cent of children interviewed in the study said they had felt sad because of such reasons as death or sickness of parents; being beaten; lack of empathy from parents including following rape and being neglected, insulted and scolded, UNICEF said. When asked whether children have problems, 91 per cent said yes, quoting not going to school, hunger, rape, death of loved ones, being abused, insulted, threatened and exploited.
Over 90 per cent of children said it is important to listen to children's opinions. UNICEF quoted one 16-year old female respondent as saying, “children are often raped and treated badly, especially orphans, so listening to our opinions is important to protect us from these problems.”
A Child Helpline – a phone and outreach service for children – would provide emergency assistance and link children in need of care and protection to long term services and resources, UNICEF said.
“The child helpline will be linked to Social Welfare services, to the police and adolescent-friendly health services to provide a comprehensive and effective all-round protection for children” said Nafisa Binte-Shafique, UNICEF's Youth and Adolescent Development Specialist in Lesotho.
In the study, more than three quarters of all children said they would call a helpline and 81 per cent said they have used and have access to a phone, even in rural areas.