Government Helpline Got 1,457 And Not 92,000 Calls Of Child Abuse And Violence In First 11 Days Of Lockdown. Here’s How PTI Spread Fake News

Government Helpline Got 1,457 And Not 92,000 Calls Of Child Abuse And Violence In First 11 Days Of Lockdown. Here’s How PTI Spread Fake NewsScreenshot 
Snapshot
  • The government helpline, ‘Childline 1098’, put out a clarification tweet and sent emails to publications, but none has bothered to rectify the error.

On 8 April, news agency PTI published a report which said that the government helpline for children, ‘Childline 1098’, received 92,000 calls on abuse and violence in the first 11 days of the lockdown period.

The report said that it was “a sombre indication that the lockdown has turned into extended captivity not just for many women but also for children trapped with their abusers at home”.

The report was carried by several publications including The Economic Times, The Hindu and The New Indian Express, among many others.

On social media, it created quite a buzz with users either using it to criticise lockdown or blaming Indian society in general.

Well, the statistic of 92,000 calls of abuse and violence is plain wrong. The news agency made a grave error in reporting the figure, inflating it from 1,457 to 92,000.

Yes, that’s how much off the mark it was.

It’s a statistic that continues to be cited in reports and discussions.

The latest to use it is Thewire.in, a portal that has done erroneous reporting on multiple occasions (read here, here and here).

Government Helpline Got 1,457 And Not 92,000 Calls Of Child Abuse And Violence In First 11 Days Of Lockdown. Here’s How PTI Spread Fake News

The repeated citation is despite the government helpline having posted a public rebuttal as well as having sent several emails to publications to rectify the error. Evidently, no one has bothered to correct it.

Here’s the story behind the error and futile attempts by the helpline to get it corrected:

Here’s what the PTI originally reported:

Government Helpline Got 1,457 And Not 92,000 Calls Of Child Abuse And Violence In First 11 Days Of Lockdown. Here’s How PTI Spread Fake News

This is where PTI went wrong

Yes, the Childline helpline number 1098 did receive a total of 3.07 lakh calls between 20 and 31 March. However, the break-up is this:

  • Total calls: 3.07 lakh
  • Calls in which the helpline intervened: 4,857
  • Calls related to prevention/protection from abuse including abandonment, child marriage, and physical and sexual abuse: 1,457 (30 per cent of the intervention calls)
  • Intervention calls specifically related to sexual abuse: 178

As is evident, while Harleen Walia, deputy director of Childline India, had said that 30 per cent of ‘intervention’ calls were related to abuse and violence, PTI reported that 30 per cent of ‘all’ calls were related to abuse and violence.

The helpline’s futile attempts at getting the error rectified

The official Twitter handle of the helpline put out a clarification on 9 April, in which it clarified that 0.5 per cent of all calls were related to abuse and violence, and not 30 per cent as reported.

The tweet said, “Numbers in recent news are misrepresented. CHILDLINE did interventions in 4,857 of 3.07L total calls rcvd. Intervntion ranges from providing nutrition, medical, to stopping child marriage. 30pc of these protection frm abuse. Only 0.5pc of total calls were help for protection frm abuse.” (sic)

The helpline tagged the official handles of PTI and The Hindu in the second part of the post.

The clarification tweet has all of six retweets and 11 likes. Evidently, nobody really noticed.

After three days, the helpline also sent emails to the editor of The Hindu and PTI (screenshots below):

Email by the helpline to editor of PTI on 12 April
Email by the helpline to editor of PTI on 12 April

As can be seen above, the email said:

“The numbers mentioned in the release in terms of total number of calls is correct; however the ratio of 30% pertains to on ground intervention calls only, and not total calls answered, resulting in inflated and erroneous numbers related to calls for help. So that would be 30% of 4857 intervention calls = 1457 protection against abuse and violence related on ground interventions. This is 0.5% of 3.07L calls we answered from 20th March to 31st March 2020.

“We would further like to inform you that the journalist has written most of the information basis the workshop conducted on YOUTUBE for child care and protection stakeholders and has not spoken with us to get clarity or understanding on data..”

Email by the helpline to editor of PTI on 12 April
Email by the helpline to editor of PTI on 12 April

Last checked, none of the portals that carried the PTI report has carried any rejoinder or clarifications, or made changes in the copy.

How fake news started by PTI led to petitions and calls for suo motu action

Meanwhile, the erroneous figure has been used by lawyers to urge the Chief Justice of India to take suo motu cognisance as well as to file a petition in court.

On 12 April, PTI (ironically) reported that “a letter has been written to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde requesting him to take suo motu (on its own) cognizance of increase in number of child abuse cases during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus”.

“The lawyers said that the basis of their letter are articles published in media in which it has been reported that hotlines are lighting up with cases of child abuse and the childline India Helpline has received more than 92,000 calls asking for protection of children from abuse and violence in the past few days during the lockdown period,” the report said.

An NGO, All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, which the court accepted for hearing.

Yeah, all this started with fake news.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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