A few weeks ago, Makkala Sahaya Vani (MSV) — a child helpline run by the NGO Parihar along with the Bengaluru police — got a call from a woman worried about her children’s addiction to mobile phones and social media. She told counsellors that her children could not take their eyes off their phone. She felt that this addition was primarily responsible for one of her children gaining weight over the last six months.
The counsellors were not shocked by the case. In the past two months, they have received a number of such calls. According to them, over the past two years, the MSV has seen a 20% increase in calls about children’s addiction to smartphones.
“The frequency [of such calls] has been increasing with every passing month. Parents tell us that their children are reluctant to go to school because they have to leave their phones behind,” a counsellor said.
On an average, the helpline receives two cases pertaining to addiction to mobile phones and social media every month.
“Children are engaged with their gadgets late into the night, without the knowledge of their parents. They sleep during the day and their academic performance deteriorates,” said Anita Shivakumar, a senior counsellor with the MSV and chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee.
In such cases, the helpline often invites parents and their children to their office on the premises of the Police Commissioner’s office on Infantry Road.
“Most of the children who are addicted to cellphones and are brought in for counselling are on the verge of depression. They have lost interest in academics and school life. Some are even ready to go to the extent of stealing money to buy mobile phones. We counsel the parents also about what to do and how to spend more time with their children,” explained Aparna Purnesh, senior counsellor, MSV.
Not everyone can reach helpline
The Makkala Sahaya Vani helpline number (10924) is inaccessible when calls are made using private service providers. Despite authorities pursuing the matter with private service providers for over a year, there has been no change.
Police officers feel that there may be many more children needing help but unable to reach the helpline owing to this problem.
S. Ravi, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime), the nodal officer for the MSV, said the issue would be sorted out at the earliest. “I came to know about this only recently. We will be holding a meeting with BSNL officials soon to understand the reason behind this technical problem. Otherwise, the very purpose of having a helpline is defeated,” he said.