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Rich old widows and manipulative foreign men

3 Jun

NGO hits out at General Security over nationality laws
By Dalila Mahdawi and Carol Rizk
Daily Star staff
Friday, May 21, 2010

BEIRUT: A Lebanese non-governmental organization (NGO) lashed out on Thursday at recent comments by the director of General Security, Wafiq Jezzini, accusing him of “humiliating” racism and sexism.

The Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) also asked the Lebanese government to clarify what progress had been made in enacting a decree granting free of charge residency permits with up to three years validity to the non-Lebanese husbands and children of Lebanese women.

The decree, proposed by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, was approved by Cabinet on April 21, but has not yet come into effect, leading human rights activists to suspect it was being delayed on purpose.

Last week, Jezzini told the Cabinet Baroud’s decree contravened Lebanon’s labor laws and accused non-Lebanese husbands of Lebanese women of entering the country illegally and marrying much older “rich widows” to financially exploit them.

Jezzini, whose remarks were published by Al-Akhbar newspaper on May 14, also claimed that granting complementary residency permits to the non-Lebanese husbands and children of Lebanese women would lead to “social problems.”

Lebanese law permits men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children but bars women married to non-Lebanese from doing the same. Deprived of state protection and recognition, those without citizenship live in a precarious legal vacuum and cannot benefit from state education or health care, work in the formal economy or vote.

Non-Lebanese husbands and children must apply for costly residency permits on an annual basis or face imprisonment and deportation.

“Giving complementary residency permits would encourage these people to enter Lebanon on the pretext of tourism or work and then not leave,” Jezzini said. “They marry Lebanese women to benefit from the provided facilities and nothing more, and this can lead to social problems and hurt society and the economy.”

He added: “[General Security] has mentioned in previous correspondences that … Lebanon has become a target country for immigrants. This flow is either legal or clandestine … [and] has led to a relatively large number of foreigners living illegally in Lebanon, many of whom – notably Egyptians, Iraqis and Syrians – marry Lebanese women and have children even if they are already married in their native country.

“They do not take age differences into consideration and sometimes marry rich widows because they are looking for a refuge or a way out.”

Roula Masri, gender program coordinator at CRTD.A, said Jezzini’s tone was “humiliating” and “totally offensive.” Jezzini was suggesting that foreign men come to Lebanon to find “old and unmarried women,” she told The Daily Star. The security official also suggested that Baroud’s decree “would give working class men the right to come and marry women who have passed the suitable marriage age and to exploit them,” Masri said.

CRTD.A asked the government to elucidate what progress it had made toward ratifying Baroud’s law. “It’s been a month since the endorsement so it’s unusual that it’s not yet passed into effect,” Masri said, adding that most laws only need two or three weeks to enter into force.

The NGO also issued a statement responding to Jezzini, saying his comments were “offensive to Lebanese women, their husbands, and to the working class.”

It added: “The head of General Security should not have generalized but should rather have focused on determining clear and transparent standards. He should also not have interfered in the personal affairs of the right of Lebanese women to choose their husbands.”

Jezzini’s comments were especially offensive as “dozens of families live in constant fear of being deported,” CRTD.A said. According to Masri, the Iraqi husband of a Lebanese woman was deported on Sunday even though his papers were in order.

Honor killing in Lebanon

12 Mar

This AFP story filed on Friday March 12 describes the latest honor killing in Lebanon. It says honor crimes are rare in Lebanon but a recent report I read said around 88 had occured in a seven year period (I can’t remember where I read that so don’t quote me on that), which is 88 too many. Sadly Lebanon’s penal code grants leniency to such killers, as it does rapists, who are pardoned if they propose to their victim. The good news is that a family violence bill is in the works, which might herald a new era in how Lebanon views perpetrators of gender-based and child abuse.

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man has been arrested in northern Lebanon for killing his sister earlier this week in what authorities described as an honour killing, a security official said on Friday. “The 24-year-old victim was single and apparently had a boyfriend,” the security official told AFP. “(Her brother) admitted shooting her twice in the head to cleanse the family honour.” The woman was only identified by her initials, as was her 28-year-old brother. Her body was discovered on Tuesday on the main road of the village of Hakr al-Daheri, in the northern Akkar region. “This kind of crime is not common in Lebanon but we have a few every year,” the official said. Lebanese law stipulates extenuating circumstances for so-called honour killings, in which male relatives kill female kin they suspect of illicit behaviour with men. In 2007, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honour killings as repulsive acts that contradict Islamic law.

Lebanese prisons teetering close to disaster

26 Feb

Rights group demands closure of two ‘unacceptable’ detention facilities
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BEIRUT: Lebanese prisons are crowded to almost twice their capacity and are dangerously neglected and mismanaged by the authorities, a damning report said on Tuesday.

The authoritative report, entitled, “Prisons in Lebanon: Legal and Humanitarian Concerns,” released by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (LCHR), also demanded the swift closure of two “unacceptable” detention facilities. The 108-page document, researched over a ten-month period, found that while Lebanon’s 20 prisons have an official capacity for 3,653 inmates, the real number incarcerated was 5,324.

In the notorious Roumieh prison alone, about 3,500 inmates are sardined into a facility with a capacity for 1,500.

It added that as most prisons had a capacity that did not match the minimum surface requirements stipulated in the 1977 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the “actual capacity” of Lebanese prisons was 2,714 inmates.

“Prisons are a major problem in Lebanon but it’s more a management problem than because there are too many crimes,” Wadih al-Asmar, secretary general of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, told The Daily Star.

He called the prison system a “vicious circle” in which stifling living conditions led to further criminal behavior amongst incarcerated persons and thus longer sentences. “It’s getting worse and worse,” Asmar said.

“This overcrowding of Lebanese prisoners is an issue that should be addressed and solved urgently, not by building new prisons, but by tackling its roots at the administrative, legal and judicial levels,” CLDH said.

The reason for such cramped conditions is largely because 66 percent of those detained are awaiting trial and 13 percent are detained arbitrarily beyond their sentence, the report found. Foreigners count for 100 percent of those held arbitrarily after completing their sentences, with 81 percent having been convicted of illegal entry and/or stay.

“In Iraq, I had a house and a good job,” the report quoted one incarcerated refugee as saying. “The war forced me to leave my country and I am punished for it.”

CLDH said that because most of those detained arbitrarily were poor and without family support, they had to resort to “begging” within the prison.

“As I have nothing, no one to support me, and to earn a little food, I began to serve inmates in my cell. I wash the toilets and prepare tea. They call me the slave,” it quoted a Bangladeshi inmate as telling researchers.

“There are a lot of simple and very easy things that we can do in Lebanon to avoid more prisoners,” Asmar said, drawing attention to the need for an improved legal aid system to assist inmates who cannot afford lawyers. It also noted the lack of commitment by lawyers provided through current legal assistance programs. Because of a lack of incentive, they often don’t bother to meet their clients or show up for hearings.

The report also noted that despite an unofficial de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 2004, 61 men and one woman were given capital punishment sentences between April and September 2009.

CLDH called for the urgent need to close the Defense Ministry Prison, notorious for widespread torture, and the General Security Retention Center, where foreigners are “held” underground for months. Not considered an official prison, the Retention Center’s poor management is the second leading cause of overcrowded prisons, the report said. The facility has no hot water and in contravention to Lebanese law, “aggressive and brutal” male guards are tasked with supervising women detainees. “We cannot accept to put people underground like animals,” Asmar said. The report calls for the facility to be closed immediately and replaced by another retention center “built and managed in compliance with international standards.”

Addressing the Defense Ministry prisons, Asmar said intelligence officials continued to torture and detain suspects. “For decades the intelligence services have appeared to be out of control, showing no respect for legal procedures.” CLDH noted that whistle-blowers are also targeted, citing the case of former detainee Adonis Akra. In November 2009, Akra was ordered to pay a fine of 10 million Lebanese pounds for undermining the army’s reputation by detailing his experience of torture in the book, “When I Became Number 16.”

CLDH’s report corroborates conclusions reached by General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, who submitted assessed Lebanon’s prisons conditions in August 2009.

Among other points, Rifi’s report warned that 280 Islamists in Roumieh are allowed to mix freely with other prisoners. Despite being a high-security facility, Roumieh lacks electronic surveillance equipment and a professional administration, he said, adding the situation could “explode” and cause a “catastrophic” tragedy.

“Jails in Lebanon need renewal, rehabilitation, utility and social services,” Asmar said. “The role of jails as a social rehabilitative institution is not being taken into serious consideration.” – Additional reporting by Wissam Stetie

No help for those battling addiction in Lebanon

17 Jan

By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, January 15, 2010

BEIRUT: Maher (not his real name) had been arrested more than 32 times and was constantly in and out of prison on drug charges before finally receiving help for his addiction problems.

“I started using [drugs] in 1985 after being influenced by some friends,” he said. “I didn’t know about the dangers.” What started as casual use of hashish quickly turned into an addiction to heroin.

Although the 1998 narcotics law stipulates that those with drug addictions are to be considered to be suffering from an illness, and not criminals, this provision is rarely upheld. The law says people like Maher should be sent to government-run rehabilitation clinics, but because of the dearth of such facilities, they usually end up in prison.

Incarceration is a lonely place for those battling addiction. Drugs are widely available and there are no provisions for those experiencing withdrawal. “In jail I can honestly tell you I wished I was dead,” Maher said. “If you’re a drug addict, your calls for help fall on deaf ears. I wasn’t offered any treatment.”

During one spell behind bars, Maher said he was visited by a psychologist once a week but it didn’t help much. “Prison breaks your spirit. Even if your body is drug free, your problems don’t disappear.”

On top of run-ins with the law, those with addiction problems in Lebanon also have to contend with considerable social stigma. Recognizing this, addiction rehabilitation organization Skoun on Thursday organized a workshop with religious figures to try to communicate that shunning drug addicts was more damaging to society than helping them.

Souha Bawab, a psychologist in Skoun’s prevention department, said the targeting of religious figures was important because they helped shape popular opinion in Lebanon. “We are trying to decrease the stigma surrounding addiction, so that people with addiction problems don’t hesitate as much to seek healthcare services, because this is what the stigma is doing,” she said. “At the end of the day, people with addiction problems are staying stuck in their addiction, which increases their suffering, the suffering of their families and the suffering of the entire community that they belong to.”

Lana Captan Ghandour, project manager of the peace building project at the United Nations Development Program, which is funding the project, said the workshop comes amid growing awareness of drug and other addictions among the general population. “The problem with drug addiction in Lebanon is escalating,” Ghandour said. A few years ago, “people with family members who had drug addictions wouldn’t want the community to know about it … Now there is a movement … to combat the challenges of drug addiction. Now people want to talk about it because they are being touched by it.”

Religious figures could play an important role in this growing dialogue through spreading messages in their sermons “to better deal with drug addicts rather than isolating them,” Ghandour added. Statistics about drug use in Lebanon are scarce, but anecdotal evidence suggests widespread availability and consumption. Skoun has said field workers estimate the number of drug abusers to be between 10,000 to 15,000 people, although it is likely an underestimation. Relatively cheap prices – heroin costs around $20 per gram and cocaine about $100 per gram – means that almost anyone can buy something.

“Many of my friends at university smoked hashish,” Maroun [not his real name], a graduate of the Lebanese University, said. “Now I know that four of them take heroin and most of the others are always using [ecstasy] pills or cocaine at the weekend.”

Those working with addicts say drug use is an issue that has long been neglected by the authorities. While those with addictions in Lebanon face several difficulties, Maher is proof that it can be overcome with support. “I am very happy now,” he said. “I’m actually working and smiling. There was a time when I couldn’t even smile but things are looking up today.” He added: “Few people have compassion for drug addicts but thanks to non-governmental organizations, things are beginning to change.”

Lebanon’s death row inmates plead for second chance

8 Jan

Gathering at Roumieh prison urges government to abolish capital punishment
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, January 08, 2010

ROUMIEH: Long-time death row inmate Ahmad lives in such constant fear of execution, he’s almost rotting away alive. “I’m suffering depression, sorrow and remorse. I can’t hear or see anymore, I’ve lost my strength and my teeth have fallen out.” Ahmad, which is not his real name, says he has learned from his actions and hopes the Lebanese authorities can show mercy by sparing him from the gallows. “I did what I did at a time of ignorance and I was misguided, but today I fear God and know my boundaries,” he said.
His plea came at a gathering held Thursday inside Lebanon’s largest prison, Roumieh, urging the Lebanese government to move toward formal abolition of the death penalty.
“It’s true that in Lebanon there are, for the time being, no executions, but there is no [official] moratorium,” said Tanya Awad Ghorra, communication officer at the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights (LACR), which organized the gathering.
The current de facto moratorium was not put into place because of humanitarian concerns but rather was politically motivated, she told The Daily Star. “It could turn upside down tomorrow, like it has done before,” Ghorra warned. “If I want to do something to scare people, let’s take five or six of them and execute them.”
A de facto moratorium on use of the death penalty has been in place since 1998, after the European Commission pushed Lebanon to ban the practice following the public hanging of Hassan Abu Jabal and Wissam Nayif Issa in Tabarja. The men’s bodies were left on display for around an hour, with their executions broadcast on Lebanese and international television channels.
The moratorium was violated in 2004 with the hanging of Ahmad Mansour, who was found guilty of killing eight people in Beirut. On the same day, Badieh Hamadeh was executed by firing squad. The executions reinvigorated the movement against capital punishment, with seven MPs proposing a draft bill which would see the practice abolished. The bill, however, was forgotten amid a serious of high-profile political assassinations in 2005, war with Israel in 2006 and ensuing sectarian violence.
Today there are 37 men on death row in Roumieh, as well as seven in Tripoli, all of whom come from impoverished and uneducated backgrounds, Ghorra said. One woman and a number of foreigners are among those on death row. They live in a schizophrenic state between life and death.
“Some of them have only gone to court once.”
One Lebanese citizen also currently faces the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for “witchcraft.” Television psychic Ali Sibat, who was arrested at his hotel room in Medina in May 2008 while in town for religious pilgrimage, was sentenced in November 2009.
Ghorra said renewed calls for an abolition of the death penalty are especially urgent as some judges have been demanding the death penalty for those found guilty of spying for Israel or belonging to the Islamist militia Fatah al-Islam, which fought the Lebanese Army in 2007.
“The death penalty kills, it’s as simple as that,” said Dr. Ogarit Younan on behalf of Walid Slaybi, who with Younan has pioneered the campaign to eradicate capital punishment since 1998. Slaybi urged Lebanon to sign up to the 2007 UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the practice, and to work toward a gradual abolition.
“The authority to kill should not be given to anyone, not to individuals, not to governments, not even to God,” Younan said.
In August 2009, the Justice Ministry launched a campaign to gain support for several draft amendments, including the formal abolition of the death penalty. Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar proposed removing articles in Lebanon’s Penal Code that allow courts to issue death sentences, saying the maximum sentence should be life with hard labor. Death sentences need the approval of the president, prime minister and justice minister.
Since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943, it has executed 51 people by hanging and firing squad. Capital punishment was frozen during the country’s 1975-1990 Civil War, and was relatively rare until 1994, when the practice was increased in a supposed effort to deter serious criminal activity.
Following lobbying by anti-death penalty campaigners, the Lebanese Parliament in 2001 voted to do away with the “the killer is to be killed” law. Nevertheless, abolition of the law did not remove capital punishment from the Lebanese penal code.
Joseph, another Roumieh prisoner on death-row, said he’s become numb since his sentencing and maintains he is innocent. “Every human being deserves a second chance.”
Agreeing with him was Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud,  who said: “We don’t want prison to be only a place of punishment, we want it to also be a place of rehabilitation.”
He and Yunan then visited three death-row inmates who had originally been expected to participate in the gathering. Their attendance was cancelled at the last minute because of “security reasons,” officials said.

Filipina worker cuts arms, jumps 7 floors, left on street more than hour

6 Jan

The first Monday of the new year was a grim day here in Lebanon. My friend and fellow journalist Matthew Cassel tweeted about a commotion (warning: graphic photos) near his house in Sanayeh, Beirut. Without even seeing what had happened, he said he already knew: a migrant domestic worker had killed herself. Sadly, this is all too common- since October, at least 30 migrant women (and one man) have reportedly died, mostly by suicide.

Following Cassel’s tip-off, I traveled to the scene, where more than one hour and a half later after jumping to her death, the crumpled body of 28-year old Filipina Theresa Otero Seda was still lying face-down on the pavement, covered with a thin white plastic sheet. It had taken an ambulance around one hour to reach the scene, where a crowd of curious bystanders, four officials from the Philippine Embassy and three policemen had gathered. According to Cassel, the street of the incident wasn’t cordoned off for some time, with cars speeding along the street and almost running over Theresa’s corpse, unaware of what lay under the bag (though of course if they respected the speed limits it would have been clear). One woman driving a school bus apparently stopped almost next to the body to ask for directions. “Someone’s just died here,” she was told. “Huh,” she replied. “So how did you say I am supposed to get to destination X?”

Theresa landed on a slight incline, and her blood had trickled down the pavement. Her right hand poked out from under the sheeting, slightly curled inwards. In full view of the public, the forensic team removed the plastic sheeting and turned her over. Her face had been smashed into an unrecognizable collection of bone and blood: a sickening sight that seems to have been burnt into my mind. Forensics let her lie on the road for a while, taking photos and allowing photojournalists to take a few snaps and giving the public a good look. I felt humiliated for her.

After a while the ambulance staff placed her crumpled, tiny body on a stretcher (without wheels) and carried her towards the entrance of the building, I’m assuming to investigate in a more discreet environment. They reversed the ambulance into the area to try to block off the site. But as they put Theresa on the ground and began to remove her shirt and trousers, I could see everything. I watched with horror as they wiped her face and arms down with Kleenex tissue, and I saw more than I should have been allowed when they turned her over and removed her bra. Again I felt humiliated for her: even in death, she wasn’t treated with due respect . She was practically stripped naked for the world to gawp at.

I managed to speak to her employer, who was standing around at the scene fiddling with his mobile phone. At times he seemed concerned, but at one point he shared a laugh with another man. About what, I don’t know. After telling me the insurance and embassy would take care of everything (aka, repatriating Theresa’s body), he said:  “This is the point- I used to leave my two children with her.” What does that mean, I thought. “So, you won’t be doing that again with future employers?” I asked him. “No way,” was his response.

Unfortunately, it appears Theresa arrived in Lebanon illegally (please excuse the error in first sentence), defying a deployment ban by Manila to work here. “Responsibility will have to be borne by those who brought her here,” Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Gilberto Asuque told me later, mentioning the Lebanese agency that recruited the young woman.

Theresa arrived two months ago and leaves behind a partner and three young daughters. Even though she had no dignity even in death, I hope she now has the peace she deserved in life. Let her miserable and wholly avoidable demise be the long-awaited wake-up call to the Lebanese authorities that they must protect women like Theresa from the isolation, desperation and, in many cases, the rights abuses that push them over the edge.

Photographs show Lebanon’s dark world of domestic violence

3 Dec

Victims of abusive partners display work in effort to break taboo
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 03, 2009

BEIRUT: For many women throughout the world, the place where they are most vulnerable to violence is not the street, but their own home. For Layla (not her real name), home brought a daily ritual of violence and humiliation at the hands of an abusive husband. Last year, he married another woman behind her back and left for another country, kidnapping his and Layla’s three children. She has not seen them since.
Documentary photographer and women’s rights activist Dalia Khamissy has been working with Layla and nine other women since August to create an exhibition of photographs, “Behind the Doors: Through the Eyes of Women Survivors of Violence.”
For the project, Khamissy partnered with KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, a Lebanese non-governmental organization dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking. The 10 participants are among hundreds of survivors of domestic violence who receive social, psychological, legal and other support from KAFA.
Khamissy’s project, funded by the Italian Embassy in Lebanon and the Italian Cooperation Office, opens to the public Thursday afternoon. The exhibition falls during the annual “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence,” which sees a flurry of activity across the globe toward ending domestic, family and gender-based violence from November 25 to December 10.
Khamissy said she hoped the exhibition would help thrust open the doors on a highly stigmatized topic.
“I hope it will make people more aware about domestic violence and make some women speak out and seek help,” she said.
Reflecting their different experiences, each woman explored a particular theme through their photographs. One woman shot images of her body, the so-called source of all her problems with her partner. Another chose to grimly document the tools of torture used by her husband.
“Dalia taught us how to compose, to adjust the light, and other technical issues about the camera, so we could give photos that reflected our feelings and suffering but that were also good quality,” said Tala (not her real name).
Because of the women’s need to remain anonymous, many of the photographs are dark, blurry, and completely untraceable back to their creator. But despite their somber and often grainy nature, the photographs look professional.
“I’m so proud. These are the pictures by women who never touched a camera before,” Khamissy said. In one striking black and white photograph, a pair of virginal white underpants lies on a stone wall. The caption, written by someone identified only as B.H, reads: “I am in my fifties and this image keeps haunting me.”
In order to produce the photographs, the women involved had to reflect on their experiences, stirring up memories of violence and disgrace they might rather not recall.
“We consider this work as a form of therapy,” said KAFA social worker Rima Abi Nader.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to go deep inside myself and show what was hurting,” said Tala, who took five weeks to start shooting photographs she felt truly represented her feelings. “When you have good memories, you want to remember them. When you have bad memories, you’d rather forget.”
The photographs “represent a visual framework of the pain that [a] few women went through over many years, and of a suffering that remained absent from the social awareness and buried in the maze of the privacies of [the family home] and social taboos,” said KAFA director Zoya Rouhana.

While they reveal the experiences of only 10 women, the exhibition’s photographs bring into relief the experience of many more Lebanese women who have or are living through domestic violence.

Violence against women is the most persistent human-rights abuse in the world yet also the most unpunished.
A third of women across the globe have at some point been coerced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, most often by someone known to them, the World Health Organization has said. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be raped or experience violence than cancer, war or car accidents.
No statistics about domestic violence exist in Lebanon, where domestic violence remains very much a taboo. But legislation clearly favors men: the penal code has no specific laws relating to domestic violence and does not recognize marital rape a crime. Rapists can be pardoned if they propose to their victims and men granted lenient sentences if found to have killed a female family member to preserve the family “honor.”
Khamissy said she hopes the exhibition will highlight the urgency of adopting a family-violence protection bill. A law has been drafted by KAFA, and if introduced, special police stations and courts would be opened to address family violence, and perpetrators of violence would be required to pay all expenses caused by their actions, such as medical care or legal fees.
The draft law is especially urgent, said Nader, because of the legal and social obstacles women encounter when trying to escape abuse. “In our confessional system [where personal matters are governed over by religious courts], it’s rare to give women the right to custody or their right to obtain divorce,” she added.
Many women are also economically dependent on their abusive partner, making it even more difficult for them to leave. Some of the women participating in the exhibition still live with violent husbands.
Still, for Rouhana, the photos are a symbol of “resistance to male power and to the rule of some tyrants empowered by the patriarchal system [which grants them] an almost unrestricted control over the destiny of their wives, daughters, sisters.”
“Before I got married, I thought I was a strong and free person,” said Layla. “After marriage, I was imprisoned.”
Tala agreed: “Everything [you do] is limited – what you are going to wear, where you are going, even your political views he decides.”
“This [exhibition] is a salute to the women who decided to revolt against what others consider an inevitable fate and unchangeable reality, despite the fact that their resistance is still unrecognized, unprotected and unsupported,” said KAFA director Rouhana.
“Behind the Doors” is showing at the Ministry of Tourism in Hamra from 4 p.m Thursday, December 3, to Wednesday, December 9, 2009.
If you or someone you know wants to talk about domestic violence, call KAFA’s confidential, round-the-clock helpline on 03 018 019.