79% of the calls received by National Emergency Service are blank, crank, or prank calls
National Emergency Service 999 has prevented 3,685 child marriages in 2020.
The number of calls at 999 for preventing child marriage was 45% higher this year compared to that of 2019.
According to the National Emergency Service, they have prevented 3,685 child marriages between January and October, of which 426 were in the month of October. In 2019, the number was 2,542, 147% higher than that of 2018 which was 1,028.
In total, 7,304 child marriages were prevented through this helpline in these three years.
Since school and colleges were announced to be closed down for the pandemic, the number of calls suggest that child marriages were on the rise, said officials of the National Emergency Service.
They said they have been able to prevent all the child marriages for which they received legitimate calls.
On information, they called up the local police station. Police then went to the spot and solved the majority of the cases through mutual understanding amid the pandemic and lockdown.
In several cases, the victim’s family was pressurized to get their child married off while in others the family tortured the victim to get married.
Mohammad Tabarak Ullah, additional deputy inspector general (DIG) of police at National Emergency Service, told Dhaka Tribune that after the lockdown started in April, the number of child marriages increased as well. During the lockdown period, they were able to prevent 2,317 marriages.
“We received calls from neighbours, sisters, friends, boyfriends, teachers, and even from grooms’ relatives as well. In some cases, the girl who was the victim of the child marriage called and informed us,” he added.
Advocate Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers´ Association (BNWLA), said: “We provide advocacy over the phone for all the cases of child marriage we get information about, from across the country.
“However, our experience in the lockdown is that victims usually do not complain until they are brutally beaten by family members or groom.
“Through consultancy, we solve 50% of the problems and have been able to prevent some child marriages during this pandemic. We cannot even reach the rest of the victims; however, they now make more calls to the emergency helplines.”
Violence against women, children on the rise
Since March, the emergency service has received more calls for informational support on Covid-19.
People also called to ask for relief assistance following the pandemic, to report corruption during relief distribution and to complain about risky movement of Covid-19 patients.
However, during the lockdown, calls for violence against women and children has also increased.
Helpline officials said people could not get out of their house due to the lockdown, as a result domestic violence has increased. People have made more calls during the lockdown period seeking police assistance.
Between January and November, Call For Service (CFS) received 204,985 calls, of which 165,521 asked for police assistance.
In the last eight months, they received 4,956 calls reporting violence against women and children incidents. The number of calls is 2,220 higher compared to the same period in 2019.
Meanwhile, it was 1,086 higher during the lockdown period compared to that between last year’s April and July.
79% blank, crank, prank calls
In the last three years, 79% of the calls received by National Emergency Service were blank, crank, or prank calls from all across Bangladesh while the other 21% sought for services.
The assessment of statistics of calls to 999 between December 12, 2017, and November 18, 2020, shows that the helpline received 25,644,382 calls, of which only 5,448,338 calls sought for services, said authorities of National Emergency Service.
However, no action has been taken yet against these blank, crank, and prank callers. At least 467 people work for the emergency service, who receive 33,000 calls,on an average, every day. Maximum of the calls received are blank while 3000-4000 are prank calls.
Specific policies for 999 will be formulated soon. The matter will then be dealt with in accordance with the law, said Mohammad Tabarak Ullah.
Meanwhile, in the same time period, CFS received 424,582 calls in total, of which 77% sought police service, 12% fire service and 11% ambulance.
The National Emergency Service is there to provide emergency services to people all across Bangladesh. However, people still do not understand what kind of service they should call 999. Therefore, calls seeking services are less in numbers, according to sources.
Numbers making blank, prank, or crank calls are never blocked as at some point the people who are doing these might need emergency service as well, sources added.
“The number of fake calls is not just high in Bangladesh, it is a worldwide problem for helpline service providers. We have not taken any measure yet to prevent this, rather we receive the calls and say we cannot provide this service,” said Tabarak Ullah.
“People of our country are still not aware of the helpline services, it will take more time for them to understand. We have to build awareness in all parts of our country,” he added.