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Additional helpline staff have been recruited to manage the increase in the volume of calls related to family violence, psychosocial distress and COVID-19 enquiries.

May 19, 2020

Domestic violence helpline in Papua New Guinea to expand during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted an urgent expansion of a counselling helpline used to provide support to people experiencing gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

ChildFund has partnered with UNICEF to rapidly expand its free, national helpline 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain (715-08000).

This is a confidential phone counselling service established in 2015 by ChildFund PNG in response to PNG’s endemic levels of family violence. In 2019, Helpline staff responded to more than 23,000 calls.

Located in Port Moresby, helpline counsellors trained by ChildFund provide immediate counselling and referral services for anyone in Papua New Guinea experiencing gender-based violence via a freephone number available nationally.

Callers can seek help on issues ranging from crisis counselling and safety planning to suicide intervention and referral to support services.

In response to the pandemic, and with the support of UNICEF, the service will now increase support to families, specifically children and adolescents, and provide callers with help to handle psychological distress caused by COVID-19 in line with official PNG Government advice. The helpline will also increase the capacity to respond to the potential increase of family violence in the country.

Additional helpline staff have been recruited and trained to manage the increase in the volume of calls related to both family violence, psychosocial distress and COVID-19 enquiries.

ChildFund Australia CEO, Margaret Sheehan said “Communities in PNG already experience high rates of family violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic can exacerbate these tensions.

“The psychological stress on families is enormous, with many parents losing work and facing an uncertain future. Sadly, this may result in more children both experiencing or witnessing abuse in their homes.

“The support from UNICEF means that over the next six months ChildFund can expand the current capacity of the Helpline and increase the number of counsellors and information officers working across two shifts ­– 7am to 3pm and 11am to 7pm –with plans to expand the hours until later at night.

“The expanded Helpline services will give it a broader role and wider reach: not only will it be providing counselling for those experiencing domestic violence, but also vital health advice around COVID-19 and referring callers to national health services where necessary.

“For ChildFund, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is the best course of action in countries like PNG where testing is weak and expensive, and healthcare systems are already stretched.

“Having the increased capacity to provide essential information about COVID-19 to callers is incredibly important, and means we can support the PNG Government health authorities as they work to limit the spread of the virus.”

UNICEF Representative David Mcloughlin said “We welcome the collaboration with ChildFund and recognise the importance of the Helpline to ensure an immediate response to children and adolescents in need of care, protection and support.

“Apart from acting responsibly to be safe from the virus, we need to make sure that children and adolescents are safe from the secondary impacts that the pandemic may have on their psychological wellbeing and on the increase of violence.”

“We want to reassure parents and children that is it normal to feel sad, isolated or even angry. The Helpline will offer support to parents to ease the prolonged distress and help children and adolescents to build resilience for coping with stressful situations. We thank the Government of Japan for the financial support that is making this partnership possible,” Mcloughlin added.

The Helpline service will be promoted in PNG using SMS blasts and radio announcements to ensure that people are able to seek help.

About the Helpline

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund and CIMC (FSVAC) and supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme. Since 2015, it has received more than 50,000 calls and partners with over 339 service providers nationwide.