The Punjab government hopes to launch a toll-free youth helpline next month. Stakeholders, however, are sceptical about how successful it will prove to be.
Establishing a helpline was part of the government’s Punjab Youth Policy, which was launched on June 6. A memorandum of understanding was also signed in this regard in June between the government and Plan Pakistan, a child rights organisation. The non-governmental organisation will provide technical assistance for the province-wide helpline, which hopes to help those aged between 10 and 29.
The Punjab Youth Helpline will be launched as a one and a half year pilot project. The Youth Affairs, Sports, Archaeology and Tourism Department is currently looking for five counsellors, who have at least an MSc in psychology, and two career counsellors, with an MBA.
Plan Pakistan’s liaison coordinator Iftikhar Mubarak told The Express Tribune that other such helplines were being run by non-governmental organisations. Helplines by Family Planning Association of Pakistan, Rozan and Sahil, have been running successfully, Mubarak said, adding that he hoped that the government helpline will be more effective because more resources would be available. “NGO interventions cannot sustain themselves,” he said.
However, Mehwish Niaz, the programme officer at Chanan Development Association – a youth organisation – does not agree with Mubarak’s assessment. Niaz gave the example of a youth helpline that had been launched by the Social Welfare Department with the help of UNICEF. The helpline had to be rolled back. “Callers were never given proper referrals and mentors or counsellors were often unavailable to receive calls,” she lamented. Government initiatives, said Niaz, had failed to prove effective.
Amjad Zafar, the Youth Parliament of Pakistan national programme officer, also expressed reservations about the success of the government project. “Such initiatives last as long as the government that introduces them,” he said. Zafar said that in order to make the project a success, the department needed to hire qualified people and pay them well. Another problem is the lack of incorporation of youth in such initiatives, he said. Zaeema Farooq, a psychology major at the Punjab University, called the helplines “rarely effective”. Having conducted research on youth between 18 and 26 years, she said that adolescents and young people with psychological issues needed long-term counselling, “which is not possible through a helpline.” “You can offer ‘quick tips’ but not intensive counselling,” she said. Mubarak dismissed the criticism, saying that such helplines offer adolescents and youth a chance to “talk to professionals without fear of being judged by society”. The callers won’t be ‘seeking tips’, he said.
Problems of the youth
According to an analysis of calls received by the Rozan Youth Helpline from January 2010 to December 2011, 55% of the calls were from the Punjab. The average age of the callers was determined to be 24 years. The analysis revealed that 11% of the callers were concerned about psychological disorders and 8% regarding their academic performance.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.