Hope for every child by protecting the most vulnerable

Childline Thailand Foundation defends today's youth from exploitation and abuse

"Last night my father said that we should kill ourselves." This isn't meant to shock or sensationalise. It's real, it fell from the lips of a Thai teenager not long ago on social media, and it's an illustration of a serious problem in our society.

"We have received no support and the bank is calling every day. We've had to sell all the possessions in our house, we're at the bottom of the sea – there's nothing left."

This is a call for help of a kind that comes from countless destitute and downtrodden youths across Thailand. They are helpless, they feel defeated, their day-to-day lives are unbearable, and the shame that financial desperation visits upon Mâe & Pâw doesn't just strain the parent-child relationship, it contorts it, leading to absolutely deplorable outcomes for the kids.

It isn't just economic hardship causing suffering for children. There is a widespread sort of parental neglect nowadays – or to put it more charitably "poor parent-child relationships" – caused by everything from parents having been abused as children themselves, to lacking basic education on child development, to being overwhelmed by what life sends their way: job loss, of course, plus marital strife, substance abuse, mental-health issues, a global pandemic.

The good news is that society usually recognises the signs of poor parent-child relationships like physical abuse, emotional desolation, and healthcare inattention if they're present in children. The even better news is that Bangkok-based charitable organisation, Childline Thailand, doesn't just recognise, they rectify.

Childline Thailand Listens and Responds

As a Registered Foundation with the Thai Ministry of the Interior, Childline Thailand takes their particular niche of altruism very seriously. Their team of over 20 staff and volunteers are compassionate, but what makes them special is their drive to truly make a difference.

This drive comes from the man in charge, Ilya Smirnoff, a staunch defender of children's rights and ardent opponent of corporal punishment in The Land of Smiles. The Russia-born, Thai-speaking Samaritan has been here since 1996, first in search of enlightenment through Buddhist teachings, now advocating for children and lobbying the Thai government on their behalf.

He is perhaps best known for his campaign "This country does not hit children," which took aim at amending a section of the Civil and Commercial Code that deals with child discipline; and for his work with lawmakers and Non-Governmental Organisations to "end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children," as outlined by the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC).

Childline Thailand's strategy in these areas is straightforward. They listen to children's voices, respond to their needs, and publicise their predicaments to other adults who care. The tools for executing the strategy are simple, too: Call Centre 1387 and The Hub Saidek.

1387 and The Hub

Whether they're classified as homeless or street urchins or beggars or wanderers – or they have roofs over their heads, but in highly dysfunctional families – a breakdown has occurred in these kids' parent-child relationships and it has put them in harm's way.

Mr. Smirnoff's first order of business back in 2003 was to provide a platform for kids to easily connect with grown-ups who would hear them. That platform is 1387, a nationwide link between children and support-service providers that's managed by Childline's operators 24/7/365 – with an online portal, too, just like any other emergency hotline.

Callers to 1387 range in age from just five years old to 18, with teenagers usually reaching out themselves and youngsters receiving assistance from the nearest smartphone-carrying adult. The calls come from kids all over Thailand in need of physical protection, emotional support, legal advice, healthcare disbursement, and financial aid – and almost exclusively from those living below the poverty line.

"The call centre receives up to 150,000 contacts annually, and COVID-19 has certainly had an effect," says Mr. Smirnoff. "From January to June 2020, there was an eight-fold increase in cases requiring our time and resources, but we're covered because if ever we can't help enough via the hotline, we do whatever it takes to get them to The Hub."

The Hub is Childline Thailand's longer-term solution for when the call centre's support and guidance aren't sufficient. Since 2011, it has been helping juveniles contend with four main threats to their well-being: imminent physical violence, sexual exploitation, illicit drug use, and "sleeping rough".

Many of them have been outright abandoned; all are living their formative years without proper parental oversight. The Hub intervenes by placing them in a loving "youth club" environment, ideally located just a five-minute walk from Hua Lamphong Station, where they receive "grub ‘n scrub", round-the-clock protection, life-skills training, access to basic education, and recreational activities.

Sadly, in 2020 The Hub is living up to its name as a centre of activity. So far this year there have been roughly 30,000 walk-ins seeking shelter or services and, just like 1387, there has been a sharp increase during COVID-19 – from 2,500 cases in January to 5,500 in August.

Adds Mr. Smirnoff, "What we're seeing is societal disruption from a global pandemic that exacerbates problems in parent-child relationships. When Mom or Dad already struggle to raise children because of psychological issues, substance disorders, lack of parenting skills, whatever the case may be, the added stress from job loss or quarantine can make things much worse for the kids."

Raising Awareness Around Thailand

Childline Thailand has built successful partnerships with major philanthropies including UNICEF, Save the Children, and Plan International focused on worldwide advocacy issues like child trafficking, sexual exploitation, child marriage, corporal punishment, and the minimum age for criminal culpability.

But, due to COVID-19's impact on the global economy, they're currently facing some fairly steep budget shortfalls. That's why they're now trying to raise awareness of 1387 and The Hub, and raise money to ensure they continue operating effectively.

About Childline Foundation

Registered under the Ministry of Interior (No. KT 1773/2551) in 2008, Childline Thailand is chaired by Dr. Tarisa Watanagase, former Governor of the Bank of Thailand, with Dr. Anantinee Krishnan, Vice Chairperson and Executive Director Mr. Ilya Smirnoff. Head office is located at 328/1 Phayathai Rd, Thanon Phetchaburi, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400 and the Hub Saidek Youth Club at 402-408 Maitri Chit Road (cnr Maitri Chit & Soi Nana) Pomprab District Bangkok 10100. Childline can be reached at tel no. 02 034 0755 and call centre 1387 (freephone 24 hours, 7 days per week), email: info@childlinethailand.org

The vital work undertaken by Childline Thailand depends on support and sponsorship.

So if you believe that society should do everything it can to protect its youth from exploitation and abuse, please visit Childline Thailand to make an individual donation or to discuss corporate sponsorship opportunities. There's no worthier cause than facilitating hope for destitute and downtrodden children. For further information please contact Email: info@childlinethailand.org

Miskawaan Health Group is proud to support Childline Thailand Foundation works toward a better future for Thai children.


Author: Henning Kalwa, Miskawaan Health Group, email: info@childlinethailand.org        

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.