Childline is getting a special short phone number after a big fall in calls
- The shortcode phone number 116 has officially been assigned to "child helpline services" in South Africa – specifically Childline.
- The phone number should be operational from July.
- Childline has seen a huge drop in calls to its Crisisline in recent years, which it attributes to factors including the end of public phone booths and kids not believing calls to its 0800 number are really toll-free from cellphones.
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From July the famous Childline helpline, a 24/7 service for children who need help, will be on the other end of the phone number 116.
That short number was officially assigned to "child helpline services" in regulations published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Icasa assigned the phone number 111 as a special Covid-19 emergency line – on a temporary basis. The child helpline, on the other hand, is a permanent assignment.
Calls and SMSes to 116 must be free from all operators, under the assignment rules, which kick in mid-July.
Childline operates a toll free number, 0800 055 555, which provides councillors 24 hours a day, under which it has called its Crisisline or simply the Helpline over the years. Phone support, the organisation says, allows children to get in touch on their own terms without the risks of seeking out face-to-face help.
The service became famous through presentations to schools and word of mouth, but has seen huge declines in use in recent years. In each of 2013 and 2014, Childline reported well over a million calls to its service. By 2019 that number stood at 266,632.
The organisation has blamed technical challenges in routing calls as well as "operational challenges" at some of is provincial operations for the most recent declines.
But its experience and research over the past half-decade has also pointed to the disappearance of public phone booths (with their privacy and anonymity) from South Africa, and children fearing that calls will cost money, as some of the reasons behind the decline.
Under archaic rules, calls to Childline's 0800 number from cellphones were initially paid for, until individual operators agree to zero-rate such calls.
Children are still dubious when told they really won't pay for such calls now, research found – and while typically aware it existed, could not recall the actual phone number to use.
The 0800 055 555 number – in use for 16 years – will be retired after six months of parallel use with 116.
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