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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Rights and Safeguards Required for Children on Streets During the Pandemic

By Ravi Ranjan* & Debarati Pal**

 

When this pandemic started, the narrative that echoed throughout the world was "Stay home, stay safe", fair enough, because the most obvious way to fight this pandemic along with vaccination has been sitting intact at home with patience. It was an easy task for many people, but what about those who do not have homes and their shelters remain close?

The Children, especially the ones living in the streets, have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Children are more than twice as likely to be in poverty as compared to adults. Even before the pandemic, these poor children from the streets were more likely to die in their childhood than the wealthier children. The onset of this pandemic has only put the lives of such children under more threat, as with this pandemic comes an economic crisis that has already taken a toll over the world.


COVID-19 has affected the children living in the streets in three different ways:-

  1. Through infection with the virus itself

  2. Through the social and economic impacts of measures, such as control, containment and mitigation, intended to reduce or stop transmission of the virus in various contexts

  3. Through the potential longer-term effects of the crisis, including the economic downturn and a delay in progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

The pandemic has seriously affected the weaker section of society by a significant margin. During the age when they should be spending their childhood and enjoying life without any concern, these children are burdened with tons of responsibilities. There is no hiding the fact that such street children were already under immense workload even before this. However, the pandemic has taken it to another level. Increasing rates of child labour, sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy are serious concerns during this crisis. The burden on families, especially those living under quarantines, lockdowns, and different restrictions on their movements, has expanded violence in homes. As the worldwide loss of life from COVID-19 builds, vast quantities of children will be orphaned and would find themselves exposed to being misused.


During the #COVID-19 pandemic, children worldwide faced an increased risk of abuse, violence, exploitation, and neglect at an unprecedented level. The children belonging to weaker sections are generally dependent upon the daily wages to ensure their living. However, the pandemic has snatched all their livelihood options. The Reports of Safe Society. have suggested that in India, not only the food stocks of families who are dependent upon daily wages are under shortage, food prices are also rising rapidly, pushing food away beyond the reach of the people living in poverty. Even in Kenya, as per the report of CSC Network, when one of their members asked a boy to speak about his opinion on the lockdown, he described, "Now that we are being told no one will be allowed to roam around the streets from 7pm, does it mean we are going to die of hunger instead of corona?" This is a serious question that needs to be answered. Otherwise, a disaster greater than this pandemic would follow up very soon. How are these children supposed to enjoy the most beautiful time of their lives? What could be the best way to protect the interest of these children?

The most important and the most basic rights that every Street Children shall have are given below –

  1. Proper shelter, children of the streets need to be provided proper shelter. Living in hostels where there is no social distancing is doing any good to them and society. While some children live in these hostels, many children even have a place to spend the night.

  2. Proper food, the pandemic saw weight gain in privileged children who were locked in homes due to pandemic, these children gained weight by merely eating and sitting quarantined in their homes, while on the other hand there are children belonging from the streets who are not even able to arrange one meal per day. UNICEF has made a detailed report on this issue; The pandemic has taken away most of the job opportunities that the people living in poverty had. Their economic conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that they cannot even arrange proper meals for themselves, so proper measures need to be taken by the authorities. Food shall be arranged for such children and their families.

  3. Proper healthcare facilities, the surge in corona cases has meant that the hospitals remain filled with COVID-19 infected patients. This implies that the people suffering from diseases other than COVID-19 are under serious threat of finding a place where they could be treated. Most children living in the streets are already suffering from malnutrition. The pandemic making it difficult to get meals has made them a strong contender of falling into numerous kinds of different diseases.


The safeguards that can be ensured for the betterment of such children during the pandemic are:-

  1. Vaccination of street children by the earliest vaccinations is the only weapon that we have against the virus.

  2. One thing that this pandemic has undoubtedly taught us is to keep proper hygiene, regular sanitization is necessary, and the poor children shall be made aware of this. Today the phrase, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness", has now indeed come alive.

  3. By following the guidelines related to COVID-19 and wearing masks. Children of streets must be made aware of these guidelines.

Meanwhile, various organizations like UNICEF have stepped forward and do their bit to support children during the pandemic. The risk of detained children getting infected from Corona has turned out to be a big concern. While in Countries like Uruguay, steps have already been taken to release such children, in India, the Supreme Court and various High Courts have issued an order to release the detained children, but the process to collect more data as always is slow and inefficient as only some jurisdictions have been able to provide the data.


Emphasizing more towards India, the vaccination speed has finally started making some progress, but the children below 18 years of age are yet to be vaccinated with their first dose, so this makes the street children even more vulnerable. The possibility of a third wave striking soon has made things even more difficult as there are high chances that this third wave might affect the children the most as they have not been vaccinated.


While raising its concerns over the kind of effect on those who have been orphaned due to this virus, the Supreme Court went on to question the Government on the use of the "PM Cares fund" for the education and protection of the Children during the pandemic. The Government of India has replied that such a scheme as of now has to be worked out.


The Supreme Court has also issued directions in the case SMW (C) No. 4/2020, also titled the "RE Contagious of COVID-19 virus in Children Protection Homes", to stop the orphaned's illegal adoptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Amicus Curiae in the present case brought to Court’s notice that a general direction for repatriation of children from the children protection homes without an individual assessment is contrary to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. He also submitted that individual assessment of each child has to be considered before repatriating him to parental care.


As per the report in The Hindu, an application was filed by Gaurav Agrawal in the pending suo moto case where the identification of the children who became orphans due to the virus was to be done, and necessary relief was to be provided by the state government. Finally, the bench of Justices L N Rao and Aniruddha Bose directed the district administration to identify such children in their areas and upload the data on the website of NCPCR. The Supreme Court has also ordered the States and Union Territories [SMW (C) No. 4/2020] to continue identifying Children who are in need of care and protection ever since the pandemic started. Meanwhile, an advisory has been issued by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. It ensures care, support and protection of children in motion with migrant families and children living on streets and enhancing the childcare institutions during these times of crisis.


India already has the largest population facing food shortage in the world, with an estimate of over 189 million people in India already undernourished before the pandemic began. The pandemic only continues to extend these numbers at a greater pace. In order to protect the children, on a personal level, we could stop the pattern which is turning out to be a big concern these days, i.e., Revenge travelling. The recent news of people rushing to hill stations like Manali, Shimla, Nainital and Mussoorie breaking all the COVID norms is like inviting the Corona Virus to an open feast. Already, 8000 tourists travelling to Nainital and Mussoorie have been sent back due to the hill stations being fully packed. We can help them by not doing something extraordinary but following the norms and taking basic measures against the virus.



 

*/** 2nd Year, B.A. LL.B. students at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi

 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)


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