Out of sight
We are undoubtedly facing a global crisis unlike any the world has ever seen before. In the space of just a few short months, the coronavirus pandemic has spread to almost every country, bringing grief, anxiety and economic chaos.
As the outbreak continues, it is easy to miss those who are out of sight. Street children are the hidden victims of this pandemic – which threatens their rights and exposes them to even greater risks. So many of the street children we work with don’t have a birth certificate which means they are unregistered. Unable to earn any money, and without a safe place to isolate, they become dependent on government support. But unregistered children are invisible– they do not officially exist, and cannot access any official help, which makes them even more vulnerable.
Since the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a global pandemic, all the countries in which we work have implemented measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Many of these states already have fragile and under-resourced health care systems, with governments concerned about their ability to cope with these new and overwhelming pressures. The regular reports we are receiving from our partners outline the stark realities they are grappling with.
In India, the lockdown has proved catastrophic for those living in cramped and densely populated urban slums, where recent heavy rainfall has left families facing the horror of human waste travelling into their homes – which they are not permitted to leave. In Guatemala, our partner tells us that there is fear, misinformation and stigma associated with the virus, and local extremist leaders are inciting communities to violence.
Street children have complex needs, but by far their most pressing need is basic survival. As coronavirus is so easily transmissible, children on the streets are particularly susceptible to contracting it – and the two things which work best to prevent the spread – good hygiene practices and social distancing – are those that street children are simply unable to do.
We know street children already struggle to access essential services, so during times of crisis like these when healthcare systems are overstretched, they are even less likely to receive the care they so desperately need. Another huge challenge street children are facing is linked to the rules and restrictions on movement and being out in public spaces. When lockdowns are enforced with criminal sanctions, those living on the streets are at a high risk of being prosecuted and further marginalised.
Our partners are working alongside their governments to ensure street children are given the emergency support they need to survive – food, water and medical care - as well as advocating to stop them being criminalised for being homeless. They are also working tirelessly to find places for children in shelters or with extended families.
Our partners in Nepal and El Salvador are also providing children with emergency food, and hygiene kits including masks, hand-wash and soap are being distributed to communities in four of the countries we work in.