It's hard to believe that its 28 years now since Esther Rantzen pulled off the remarkable feat of launching ChildLine in the UK. What's even more staggering is that there are now 179 other child helplines around the world. These helplines exist on every continent in countries including Pakistan, Egypt, the Congo, Columbia, Argentina, Israel, New Zealand the US, France and of course the UK.
Today, more than 200 representatives from these child helplines have come together in London to discuss how we can learn from each other to better serve the children who need our help, every minute of the day. And we can learn a from each other - because whether they live in a small town in Australia, the middle of a city in Brazil , or a rural village in the UK, it is striking how similar many of the underlying issues children across the world have to deal with are.
This was brought home in a report released yesterday by the Child Helpline International organisation that joins these helplines together (link) which shows that over 28 million children have been in touch seeking help from these services over the past two years.
So what are children from around the world telling us?
The ChildLine Helpline International (CHI) Voices of Children and Young People report revealed the worrying scale of abuse and violence faced by young people - it was the main reason children got in touch with almost three in 10 speaking about this. They reported exposure to abuse and maltreatment including physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, sexual violence, and domestic violence.
Psycho-social well-being was the second major reason that children contacted helplines. They called about problems including fear and anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. This echoed what we've seen in contacts to ChildLine in the UK. Our report released today On the Edge showed a huge increase in children getting in touch about suicidal feelings. Last year (April 2013 - March 2014) we held 34,517 counselling sessions with children who talked about having suicidal feelings - 116% more than three years ago. Nearly 6,000 of these children had told a counsellor that they had previously attempted to take their own life. We need to understand more about the growing unhappiness of our children and persuade them not to feel fearful or ashamed to tell others of their feelings.
Many of the other issues that children called about across the world were similar to those children contact us about in the UK - including family relationships, bullying and peer relationships.
Of course the report also highlighted issues that were far more prevalent in certain regions of the world. For example, while we do get children contacting us in the UK about child marriage, of the 6,158 children who contacted helplines about this issue worldwide, 68% were from Asia Pacific.
However wherever children are across the world, and whatever their problems are, it is clear that having a helpline in place, with people who would listen, care, and are there to help young people to access support can make a big difference.
Regrettably, the report data shows that as well as the 28million contacts that helplines took, there were 24million instances when children around the world were unable to get through - often due to the availability of counsellors or because financial constraints mean helplines can't be open 24 hours. And in some countries child helplines don't exist at all. We have to change this.
This is why CHI has launched the Free our Voices campaign, which we wholeheartedly support here in the UK. This calls on governments around the world to help organisations in their countries to establish a free to contact 24/7 child helpline in their countries, such as we have here in the UK. We hope that through Free our Voices and other campaigns and initiatives this can become a reality for children no matter where they live.
Child helplines can't solve every problem. But they can make a big difference in making sure that young people get the support they need. I see this time and time again through my work with ChildLine, and this message was reinforced through listening to my international peers.
In the words of one young caller, Josefa, "Thank you for responding, thank you for listening and helping me find my way. I don't feel alone anymore."
Her words show why child helplines are so important, and why we must do all that we can to make sure that every child has somewhere to turn to.