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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

The Plight of Street Children During Covid- 19: A Crisis Within Crisis

By Alankrita Sinha, a 3rd Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

 
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Introduction

This famous quote couldn’t have been more relevant than what it has become today during the present testing times. Covid 19 has been spreading far and wide across the globe ever since its inception and it has been continuously increasing its victim toll. All the authorities including the World Health Organization, Government and health experts have taught us the ultimate slogan of “Stay Home Stay Safe” but what happens to the ones who do not have homes? How do they stay safe? How do they save themselves and their loved ones from the devastating effects of the Corona Virus disease? To make everything worse, the ‘homeless’ we are discussing right now is the street children- the ones who already face hardships like denial of the very primary needs of food, shelter and clothes. Adding to their pre-existent misery, the Covid situation has left them helpless, disconsolate and vulnerable to the disease.


Street Children: Who Are They?

Before beginning with the risks involved, let us first know some important details about the street children. As per the definition given by UNICEF, A street child is “someone whose usual home and/or source of income is the street, and who is not sufficiently safeguarded, monitored, or directed by responsible adults.” The street children as talked about in this article are the ones who are either orphaned, abandoned, separated from family or runaway kids. They spend their lives on the roads and earn a living either by begging for alms or doing menial works like household chores. According to a report, the population of such children in India is a whopping 18 million.



Risks Involved: Why Is It High Time To Be Concerned?

The life of a street child is already filled with so many miseries and hardships that it is enough to cause heart palpitations. However, we might not have been concerned earlier about their pathetic condition but the scenario has reached an alarming state. Each and every individual has a moral obligation to do their bit to at least keep these underprivileged children far from the reach of the fatal spread of disease. The next paragraphs discuss the actuals risks that these children are open to.


i. Fear of the disease- The pandemic- especially in the second wave- has been as cruel as it could get. Covid has made no difference; it has spared no one on the basis of age, gender, status etc. it has been as devastating for children as it has been for adults or for elderly people. The street children are exposed to a severe unhygienic environment and the Covid outbreak has deepened their vulnerability to falling sick. These children mostly live in groups with little chance of social distancing. Moreover, if a child contaminates the disease, he does not have the resources to get adequate treatment for the same. Thus, the health issue of street children has become an issue of major concern.


ii. Loss of Livelihood- Their survival strategies require moving from one place to another. They are seen sometimes selling street food, working as an automobile mechanic, working as waiters in dhabas, selling balloons, pens or other knick-knacks at traffic lights etc. As the world comes to a standstill, they have lost the little income they had through these jobs. The forced immobility during the lockdown has further pushed them into the ditch of poverty and helplessness. One may only guess but never fully grasp the extended pain young infants have to face as a consequence of coronavirus.


iii. Crime against Children- The latest report on crimes against children is the Government of India report of 2007. It states that street children undergo physical, sexual and emotional abuse. However, this report is quite old and obviously does not take into account the sharp incline in these cases during the covid pandemic. Another report suggests that there has been a rise in cases of child abduction, child labour and sexual offences against them. The most important reason behind it is the temptation to get bare minimum needs like food and shelter.


iv. Lack of awareness and resources- Needless to say, the street children are poor and they lack education. Corona Virus is comparatively a very new and unknown disease. Therefore, it is difficult for everyone to adapt to the changes and include new practices in their daily lives. The privileged section of the society understands the importance of hygiene and protective measures. However, the same cannot be expected from children who do not know the seriousness of the disease. These children who dwell on the streets do not know the importance of masks, sanitisers or vaccines. They do not know about social distancing and the consequences of not following the same. Such a condition makes them nothing but the most exposed to the disease.


For an instance, even if we agree that they are aware of these protective measures due to the efforts taken by the government, we also know that they have absolutely no means to avail them. Children are seen to use used masks that they find on the roadside without knowing the contamination it carries with itself.


What Is The Way Forward?

These problems which these street children face are serious issues concerning human rights. Organizations on a global level like UNICEF and on the national level like Child helpline centres, National Commission for Protection of Children etc. have provided guidelines to help these children. Apart from these, there are various independent organizations that have come forward on a voluntary basis. Along with these, each and every individual can contribute their share according to convenience. Some suggestions are as follows:

i. Supporting the NGOs- Non-Government Organizations have proved to be a boon for these underprivileged children. There are a number of such organizations that work selflessly towards the betterment of these children. As individuals, we can help them with either donation drives, awareness campaigns, fundraisers or field volunteering.


ii. Raising Awareness- The slogan of ‘Each one Teach one’ is aptly applicable here. More than half of the problems can be solved by merely being aware of them and being prepared for them. We must make it a motto for ourselves to educate as many children as possible about the complexities of the coronavirus disease. As members of society, we must make them aware of the proper use of masks, sanitisers, social distancing, vaccine drives, ration distribution and other undertakings of the government which they can be beneficiaries.


iii. Individual Donations- There are examples of people who have wholeheartedly supported these young people by organizing donation camps at the individual level. Similar efforts can be made by others also according to respective capacities. Donations in any form will be useful; they may be in the form of food, medicines or Covid essentials.


iv. Assisting Orphanages and Child Care Centers- If the aforementioned measures are not possible, the best way in contributing is to assist orphanages or other such centres. Mostly, these are not able to function properly due to a lack of funds. In such a scenario, sponsoring even a day’s meal might be more than enough for the street children.


Conclusion

Summing up, the difficulties in the life of a street dweller is beyond imagination. The Covid crisis has worsened their situation to an extreme level. Considering the population of India and the population of street children, it might take years to completely tackle this problem. But, their condition in the Covid pandemic needs our immediate attention. We are a part of the same society- the privileged and the underprivileged. Every little effort counts and together we can pledge to make their life better with the help of the above-mentioned solutions.


 

(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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Maneesh BSN
1月03日

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