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Family and sexual violence helpline in PNG responds to sharp rise in calls

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted an urgent expansion of ChildFund Papua New Guinea’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain (715-08000), a tele-counselling service providing support to people experiencing sexual and gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Established five years ago in response to PNG’s endemic levels of family violence, the national freephone helpline offers callers help on issues ranging from crisis counselling and safety planning to suicide intervention and referral to support services.

In 2019, Helpline staff responded to more than 23,000 calls.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, additional counsellors and information officers have been recruited and trained, allowing the service to operate across two shifts, with plans to expand the hours until later at night.

This will ensure the helpline has the capacity to respond to a rise in GBV incidents, spurred by lockdown measures and increased economic uncertainty within families.

Margaret Sheehan, CEO of ChildFund Australia, says: “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.”

The helpline now offers additional support to children and adolescents experiencing prolonged distress, in recognition of the secondary impacts that the pandemic may have on their psychological wellbeing.

Margaret Sheehan adds: “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 Helpline service is being promoted nationally in PNG using SMS blasts and radio announcements to ensure that people can seek help.

Bridgette Thorold, country director of ChildFund PNG says: “ChildFund and FSVAC are committed to driving change and will continue to implement programs and services which address the causes of violence; build the capacity of our legal system and strengthen the services available to survivors.

“We all have a part to play in building a safer community for the women and children of Papua New Guinea, and in upholding their right to live free from all forms of violence.”

For anyone experiencing or witnessing family violence, the 1 Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain offers immediate tele-counselling and referral services across the country. Call freephone 7150-8000.

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund and CIMC (FSVAC) and is supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme. The expansion of services in 2020 has been made possible thanks to UNICEF and UN Women.

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