In an effort to help women and children during difficult settings, Human Settlement Minister Dorji Choden launched the pilot phase of toll-free helpline 1098 in Thimphu yesterday.

The helpline service is an important component of the protection system, which is expected to help initiate immediate and improved services for women and children.

Chairman of National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Lyonpo Dorji Choden, said that the helpline service marked the beginning of fulfilling the mission of establishing an effective and sustainable protection system for women and children in need of care and support. “It would be an alternative means to address their social and mental problems.”

She said that it would help create a peaceful and caring society where vulnerable ones are not left out but looked after and involved in the mainstream development.

It was learnt that an assessment revealed that of about five helplines in the country, only two helpline numbers are in operation.

During the trial phase, two counsellors will attend to calls from 9am-5pm. However, the calls will be attended 24 hours after the official launch on October 11.

Calls received after 5pm during the trial phase would be recorded as voice messages, which would be followed up in the next day, officials said.

NCWC’s executive direwctor, Kunzang Lhamu, said that they had been working on the toll-free number since April last year. “The main purpose of the helpline is to provide timely, effective and accessible services to women and children in need.”

She said that the value and nature of helpline was that it can be anonymous, which makes it easier to share problems over the toll free number.

Director of Save the Children, M B Ghaley, said that women and children who are in distress, need immediate support can now have access to the facility. “It would take lot of courage for a woman or a child to pick the phone and call not knowing who’ll be at the other side.”

He said that if callers recounted their stories multiple times but no action had been taken, then they might get discouraged. “We hope that in the trial phase, we would be able to identify challenges and fix them.”

Objectives of initiating the toll-free helpline include strengthening the efficiency of protection services such as counselling, legal information and instant facilitation and referrals and to ensure quality care, support and appropriate services by trained individuals.

Task force members include Save the Children, Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW), Royal Bhutan Police, information and communications ministry, Office of the Attorney General, and health ministry’s health helpline center.

Rinchen Zangmo