Sauti 116 bolsters government response to violence and abuse in homes and communities in Uganda

Sauti-116, a go to support centre for children, women and men experiencing abuse, neglect, exploitation, and gender based under Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social development

By Moses Sserwanga

At Sauti 116, the counsellors working in 24 hour 7 days a week shifts are always at their workstation by 7 a.m. every day to receive calls from the public through a toll-free telephone service with a short-code 116.

Sauti 116 call center is a national mechanism to manage cases of child rights violations and Gender Based Violence (GBV) for children, women and men across the country operated by Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD). It has been acclaimed by many for helping to save lives, resettle victims of child abuse and GBV.

“Sauti” is the brand name of the Uganda Child Helpline. It is a Kiswahili word meaning voice which signifies the voice that the service gives to children and women to report cases of abuse and GVB.

At their modest offices in Kireka, Wakiso District, a committed team working eight-hour shifts, that includes social workers, counselors, and phycologists among others, receives an average of 1,000 calls per day through the Sauti/UCHL helpline currently running on a short-code 116.

A case worker attends to a caller in the service contact Centre at the SAUTI-116 Helpline offices in Kireka, Kampala. The case workers, who are qualified and professional counsellors receive calls 24 hours, seven days a week, 365/6 days a year. All photos by Stuart Tibaweswa

The counselors are well trained professionals with capacity to deal with calls from traumatized victims of child abuse and GBV. Ms. Sarah Nahabi, is one of these dedicated professionals and the Sauti call center manager. She says that the team of counselors collectively speak at least 26 out of the 56 local dialects in Uganda.

“Each one of our team members can speak at least three or more local languages. This helps us to deal with all the calls we receive from the different parts of the country,” Nahabi explains.

Approximately, 30-50 of the cases received at the Sauti call centre are critical cases of Violence Against Children (VAC) that require immediate action, referral and follow up. Interestingly, 60 per cent of the callers are male while 40 per cent are female. But Nahabi hastens to add that women report the biggest number of actual cases of abuse and violence.  The children who report cases account for 21 per cent.

The statistics from the helpline data show that child neglect is the most reported form of abuse at (46.5 per cent) followed by sexual abuse (16.0 per cent), physical abuse (15.2 per cent) while 22.3 per cent represent other forms of abuse.

Donors from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (GoVUK), Embassy of Sweden in Uganda, British High Commission and UNICEF officials pose for a group portrait after a successful visit at the SAUTI-116 Helpline offices in Kireka, Kampala on 4.04.2024.

Nahabi also noted that 80 per cent of the perpetrators are male and 20 per cent female while 61 per cent of VAC victims are female and 39 per cent male.  She said that English and Luganda are the most spoken languages by the callers and calls are received from all regions in the country including, the Central, Western, Eastern and Northern Regions.

Nahabi further reveals that Sauti 116 has so far received 1.4 million calls out of which 14,378 cases have been closed since November 2021 when a new upgraded system that caters for GBV cases was installed at the centre. This means that as of 2023, Sauti 116 has registered a case closure rate of 40 per cent compared to 34 per cent in 2020.

Closure means that the reported cases have been processed to a logical conclusion and the victims have received justice, post-trauma support among other services and have been resettled.

It is clear from these statistics that the UCHL/ Sauti 116 is helping millions of Ugandans to deal with the rampant vices of child sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation and GBV.

As the UCHL celebrates 10 years of existence several development partners continue to visit the Child Helpline to understand the operations and functionality of the Child Helpline/Sauti 116.

Most recently Sauti 116 was visited by a delegation of UNICEF partners from the Embassy of Sweden – Tomas Lundstrom and the British High Commission Rebecca Bell and Sarah Ikanza to get a deeper understanding of how the facility is serving millions of vulnerable Ugandans across the country.

A delegation of UNICEF partners included Tomas Lundström, Deputy Head of Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden during a briefing meeting at the SAUTI-116 Helpline offices in Kireka,
Kampala on 4.04.2024. The visit was scheduled to witness the on-ground services offered at the facility.

Mr. John Mugisha, the Senior Probation and Welfare Officer MGLSD and the National Coordinator of Sauti 116/UCHL informed the visiting delegation that that UCHL gives confidence to members of the public to report cases of child rights violations and GBV without fear of being identified for retribution.

“UCHL/Sauti 116 offers hope at a point when children and women who need help but have no one within their immediate environment to provide it. The UCHL does not replace other reporting mechanisms, but rather works along them to increase and improve reporting of violations and abuse against children,” Mugisha explained.

Mugisha said the helpline is also expected to strengthen child protection data collection, management, and reporting for better programming for children affected by violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

He further highlighted a range of services offered at Sauti-116 which include provision of child protection and GBV risk mitigation information to children and adults who contact the facility, toll-free telephone services and face-to-face guidance and counselling to children and adult survivors of abuse and violence.  At Sauti 116 they also encourage walk-insand pick up cases of abuse reported from the radio, television, print media, U-report, Ministry offices and referrals.

The center also has a team of foot-soldiers who follow–up on the reported cases to ensure that the victims and affected persons receive justice, medical support, and other needed care from the different duty bearers across Uganda’s justice system these are called Case workers.

Sauti 116 carries out community education and awareness creation on childcare and protection. The centre also responds to reported cases of online child sexual abuse and exploitation which are also on the rise given the increased internet accessibility and offers mental health and psychosocial support.

The timely UNICEF support. 

Mugisha says that Sauti 116/UCHL would not be in existence without the generous support from UNICEF and partners. “UNICEF has over the 10 years continued to support 80 per cent of the operations of the child helpline. These include the provision of internet, airtime, facilitation for case workers, counsellors, capacity building, fuel, and transport. Other services UNICEF is supporting at the center include case response emergency rescue, prevention-awareness raising in schools and communities, community case clinics with local government and police, referral and follow up,” Mugisha reveals.

With support from UNICEF, the district action centres were set up to offer monitoring and support supervision for case work in the districts. The child helpline receives most of the data on VAC and GBV and coordinates integrated multi sectoral case management services for children and women victims at the local district action centres.

SAUTI 116 functionality

“Sauti 116 offers a confidential mechanism through which children and adults report abuse and access supportive services to address the effects of abuse, while linking to statutory actors such as health centres and hospitals, police and courts of law to ensure that the perpetrators of child abuse are held accountable,” Mugisha notes.

“Our centre adopts a three-tier service delivery framework which includes the national call centre at Kireka where calls from affected persons are received by qualified staff/professional counsellors 24 hours, seven days a week, 365/6 days a year. The counsellors respond to calls and provide online counselling, guidance/information as required by the caller, and escalate cases requiring direct intervention to the district action centres as appropriate which are managed by the District Probation and Social Welfare Officers,” Mugisha stated.

It is expected that Sauti 116 will eventually be expanded to include text messages, chat messages, and emails.

The district action centres are now established in 120 districts. These centres are the point of integrated response to cases of child abuse, neglect, exploitation for VAC and GBV that are reported through the helpline.

The district action centres are managed by district probation and social welfare officers or community development officers who take responsibility for following up on reported cases and pool resources to address the needs of a particular reported case.

“In cases where children or victims of GBV are in danger or in an emergency, such cases are immediately responded to through the integrated case management system from the supervisors at the national call centre to the caseworkers at the established district action centres. This ensures that necessary steps are immediately taken to ensure that the child is linked to appropriate services for longer-term assistance,” says Mugisha.


Writer is a media and communications consultant And Advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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