A government toll-free number for reporting child sexual assault cases has been deactivated temporarily after it appeared in pornographic content search, and calls seeking sexual services were received, a senior official working in the department said.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) officer said an alternative number has been launched, even as the commission tries to put the deactivated number back into operation.
The helpline number operated under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act has been de-funct since September. "It started receiving lewd calls every day following which we suspended it temporarily," the officer said.
He said that based on conversations with the callers, it was found that they dialled the helpline after finding the number when they searched for pornographic content online.
"The helpline number appeared in their searches as it got tagged along with words like 'sex'. They saw 'sex' and the number and thought they could use it for getting sexual services," the officer said.
An alternative number has been made available in addition to the Childline number of 1098 to report such cases, he said.
NCPCR member Yashwant Jain said a police complaint has been lodged and the apex child rights body has been in touch with state-owned telecom service provider MTNL to find a solution.
"The problem is that the number has been widely advertised and replacing it with another will create confusion. That is the reason we are trying to bring the same number back into operation and not discard it," Mr Jain said.
The helpline was started in 2016 as part of the "e-box" initiative of the Women and Child Development Ministry to enable filing of complaints of sexual offences against children. The e-box is hosted on the NCPCR's website and allows people to file a complaint online or call a toll-free number.
However, in the last two years, the portal has received just 104 complaints out of which 54 have been addressed, he said.
The reason behind the poor response to the number is reluctance of people to report cases of sexual abuse and even if the child wants to report the parents have reservations, the official said. "This is evident from the number of hits that the page has got (till August 26). It was recorded at 2,836," Mr Jain added.