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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Street Children during Covid-19

By Khushi Singh, a 2nd Year student at The ICFAI University, Dehradun

 
“Sometimes you get so tired of each day, you wish it was over. But it just goes on and on, like the silent prayers that forever go unanswered."

- Darlenne Susan Girard, freefalling


It's never a choice to be on the streets. Circumstances, various forms of abuse, or trauma aftermaths can all lead to a person being homeless. The majority of us are fortunate to have a family, a home, and a pleasant and happy life, but this is not the situation for everyone. Not every child has parents to care for, school to go to, or parties to attend. We celebrate every occasion with joy, but do we ever ponder how street children live their lives and celebrate festivals? The scenario as a result of Covid 19 has had a more significant influence on the lives of several street children, with many untold consequences for street children who are unable to earn a daily income and rely on the benevolence of informal street activities for their entire livelihood. This blog addresses the plight of street children, the difficulties they faced during Covid 19, and the government's and people's positive approach toward these children.


Who are these "Street Children"?

Minors who live and survive on the streets are known as street children. They can be found sprouting up in public landfills, train stations, and under bridges in major cities worldwide. Every child on the streets has a reason for being there. These children are deprived of their family’s affection and protection. Many children end up living on the streets as a result of extreme poverty. There have been numerous definitions of street children, but no precise category has been established.

According to the definition of UNICEF, "street children" fall into three categories:

  1. Children "of" the street (street-living children), who sleep in public places without their families.

  2. Children "on" the street(street working children) children who work on streets in the daytime and return to their homes at night

  3. Children who live with their family on the street (street-family children).


Terming’s like “teenage beggars”, “street children”, “homeless kids”, “street boys”, “street bums”, “parking boys”, “city nuisance” and “children in tough situations” have also been used to describe them.


Struggles of Children on the Streets

Hundreds of millions of children around the world live or work on the streets. The number continues to rise as a result of population growth, urbanization, and migration, particularly in emerging countries. The difficulties that street children confront are indescribable. Thievery, pickpocketing, drug trafficking, and prostitution are among the illegal acts they are forced to engage in. They are also forced to work for more extended periods.


These children are forced to work in dangerous environments and lack of access to education and skills prevents them escape the cycle of poverty. Street children frequently lack access to both nutritious and sufficient food, and they also lack the financial means to purchase a proper one-time meal. These children lack access to health care and are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. They are typically discriminated against since they are perceived as outcasts. Some children stated that due to their appearance, they were discriminated against during food distribution efforts. As a result, many street children turn to narcotics like heroin, cigarettes, cannabis, and other substances to cope with their challenges.


Crises on top of Crises

The vulnerability of street children has been exacerbated by Covid 19. Their condition has worsened. The virus has devastated the young and the old, the rich and the poor, but they exacerbate the latter's vulnerability. Living on the streets is bad enough, but COVID-19 added to the suffering of street people, especially children. Curfews at night and lockdowns had further added to their difficulties.


Another problem was a lack of knowledge about the infection and establishing social distancing. Every day, they meet new people, eat from the same plate, sleep together and wear masks thrown by the side of the road, some others don't even wear a mask. These reasons make street children most susceptible to the virus. These children even lack access to medical care. Not only these children are threatening their health, but they are risking the health of the entire society. Fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other frequent symptoms of covid 19 may have already affected these children without their knowledge.


During lockdown periods to combat the pandemic, tens of thousands of people were ringing helplines every day, and thousands were going to bed hungry. The millions of homeless children who lived in cities - on streets, under flyovers, or in small lanes and by-lanes were the hardest affected, according to Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a Delhi-based non-profit that works with child labourers and street children. “During the lockdown, everyone has been ordered to stay at home,” he continued. But what about the children who live on the streets? “Where do they go?”. These children will inevitably perish from hunger, and Covid 19 has increased the death rate of street children even further. These children are unable to earn a living as a result of the country's entire lockdown. Due to a lack of access to education, street children are unaware of their rights, worsening their predicament.


Scenarios from all over the World

I have listed a few instances of the challenges that these street children are facing worldwide, but there are many more like them. The struggle of these street children has an impact not just on underdeveloped countries, but also on developed nations. The city of Nairobi has the highest number of street people, with 15,337, according to the recently conducted national census of 2019. According to data, 37.7% of homeless children have had malaria, 17.7% have had chest-associated ailments, 13.9 percent have had a fever, and 10% have had diarrhoea, stomachache, or sexually transmitted infections. They are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their pre-existing health issues. While the city of Dhaka is under stringent mobility restrictions, many children and teenagers continue to cruise the streets gathering debris and garbage to sell. India's condition is also terrible.


A Helping Hand

Like every child, children on the streets are entitled to a healthy and balanced childhood. During this challenging time, the government, citizens, and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), worldwide have stepped forward to assist street children and save them from the epidemic by giving them food and shelter. To help and offer vital resources for children, various NGOs run shelter homes and child-centric activities.


In light of the pandemic, the Delhi government has drafted a strategy for the welfare of street children that emphasizes the role of many stakeholders in fostering Covid-appropriate behaviour and raising knowledge about the disease.


The Women and Child Development Department of the Delhi government drafted the policy (WCD). It also advises that after a child is saved from the streets and reaches the age of 18, they would be trained as civil defence volunteers and would help them and others from the same background live a respectable life. In addition, the policy describes several more criteria for establishing a child's vulnerability.


“Fundacion Sonrisas de Bombay” is helping out street children in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The city of Mumbai has aided several street children during this period with the help of a mobile unit known as the "Smiling Bus," which provided them with support, resources, and knowledge to help them deal with this difficult situation. They also distributed masks and ration cards. Similarly, in Senegal, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime)is collaborating closely with the government to safeguard the country's street children from the deadly coronavirus, in response to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s appeal for immediate action to assist street children amid the global crisis. Several other organizations are also working to improve the lives of these street children during the Covid 19 crisis.


Conclusion

Street Children's Day was launched on April 12th, 2011 to give street children a voice to prevent their rights from being overlooked. We might be able to create a better life for street children if we all band together and treat them as if they were our sons and daughters, not discriminating against them because we are aware of their situations. They need us even more in this dire condition. This is an unprecedented crisis, and we must unite together to bring it to an end. I would like to end with a nice and heartfelt quote from Abhijit Naskar,


“The greatest happiness in the world is in helping the people you don't know and seeing them happy.”


 

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

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