Social Protection: Not "Helpline of Hope Call Centre"

The main objective of a helpline is to provide immediate support for victims of violence seeking help. Therefore, the establishment of a helpline is in a bid to improve victim protection and support.

In spite of Ghan's relatively recent legislative and policy framework, several institutional mechanisms and actors currently operate at national regional and district levels in order to address abuse and violence in all forms. Nonetheless, the recent establishment of the "Helpline of Hope Call Centre" by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with the World Bank, lacks the objective of a helpline.

It has been couched to serve a broader need which includes the dissemination of relevant information to the public in line with the government's Social Protection (SP) programmes; a clear drift of the functions and objectives of a helpline.

Social Protection has existed since Independence to address poverty, vulnerability and exclusion. It has taken a rights-based approach, and is an expression of the Government's commitment towards reducing inequality and poverty in Ghanaian society by subsidizing the provision of basic social services such as education, health, water and sanitation etc. A number of Social Protection interventions are being implemented at the district level to address the issue of poverty. These include the Education Capitation Grant to make basic education accessible to children from poor households; the Ghana school feeding programme; free uniform and exercise book programme; free National Health Insurance coverage for extremely poor and vulnerable households and Labour Intensive Public works, LESDEP, MASLOC among others. All these are geared towards the development of human capital for sustainable growth and development as well as poverty reduction.

Helplines are particularly important in rural areas, and outside the operating hours of support services. Helplines may also cover all forms of violence. A helpline may provide information, advice and assistance shelter or equivalent safe, temporary accommodation including support and assistance, and if necessary, practical help in contacting relevant agencies assistance.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection did less in sensitizing the public about the objective and functions of the "Helpline of Hope Call Centre". Clearly, not sufficient survey data was indicated related to the type of services offered by the helpline. The "Helpline of Hope Call Centre" has been portrayed to be a social protection tool rather than a traditional helpline.

The Eban Centre for Human Trafficking Studies (ECHTS), recommends the following:

1. Lack of an understanding about the function and objective of a Helpline: The purpose of setting up a helpline is to provide protection and support. We recommend that the Ministry adheres to the basic function of a Helpline, which is providing protection and support.

2. Public Awareness of a Helpline: The objective of a helpline would be achieved when the public is well sensitized and educated on their rights and how to report abuses and violence. Clearly the Ministry did less public awareness on the establishment of the "Helpline of Hope Call Centre", thus, its operation is a white elephant to many Ghanaians. ECHTS recommends that the Ministry embarks on an urgent general public awareness programme.

3. Social Protection is not a Helpline: The Ministry should clearly distinguish between the operation of a helpline from that of social protection.

4. The "Helpline of Hope Call Centre" is an umbrella for all forms of abuse and violence: We recommend that in the future the Ministry should look at developing various toll-free numbers or short codes targeting the various forms of violence and abuse. This would streamline incoming calls.

5. Voicemail Service: Currently due to the low level of awareness about the existence of the "Helpline of Hope Call Centre", incoming call volume may be relatively low. It would be imperative for the Ministry to have a voicemail service to rectify future high volume of calls. This would make it rate which may be always possible for a caller to connect immediately to a helpline worker during peak times. The voicemail service provides information on safety and alternative sources of assistance and allows callers to leave a message to be called back. Messages should be checked regularly and calls returned if it is safe to do so.

Helpline promotion is only one function of addressing violence and abuse. Not every victim of abuse or violence would want to call a helpline to obtain help. Therefore, the Ministry should develop effective policies and legislations that would impose severe penalties on perpetuators of violence and abuse