Effects of pandemics on street children

Fri, 12 Jun 2020 Source: Francisca Quayson, Contributor

Our children, pride of every home and country, the future leaders of the world. Such great gifts from nature! So tender, so loving, kind-hearted, and free-spirited.

There are over two billion children in the world; with approximately 100 million children living on the streets. Africa has a total of about 30 million street children. Street children have no home but the streets and no support from their families. One may be curious to know if these children were all born without homes. Unfortunately, the answer is No. War, abuse, and poverty contribute a lot to children making the streets their home.

A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads across continents and affects a substantial number of people. A disease is not a pandemic merely because it is widespread or kills many people; it must also be infectious.

Cancer for instance is responsible for many deaths but is not considered a pandemic because the disease is neither infectious or contagious. The world has battled with some pandemics including Spanish flu, smallpox, tuberculosis and the current Coronavirus.

The Spanish flu (1918 flu pandemic) was a deadly influenza pandemic caused by H1N1 influenza. The pandemic lasted about 15 months. It infected 500 million people which is about a third of the world's population at the time. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million and possibly the deadliest pandemic in human history.

The Coronavirus is another pandemic the world is currently battling with. It is an infectious disease caused by the newly discovered coronavirus. The COVID-19 virus spreads through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Hence practicing respiratory etiquette is important. The Coronavirus has so far affected over 5 million people worldwide with over 300, 000 deaths. In Africa, the disease has affected over 130, 000 people with over 3,000 deaths.

With the world being attacked by pandemics, how are homeless people especially street children being affected? How are street children protected in this global emergency? During a pandemic, street children can’t stay home and stay safe if they have no home of their own. They can’t have access to food and water if they can’t work to get money to feed themselves. They can’t seek medical attention if infected with such diseases because no one would notice what they are going through.

The first risk street children face during a pandemic is their high chance of being infected with the disease. Staying at home plays an important role in reducing the spread of pandemics. Street children can’t stay home and stay safe if they have no home to live in. They wander through narrow streets, looking for a safe place they could live to protect themselves from such diseases. In the end, they sigh at their futile attempt.

Secondly, they pose a chance of suffering from severe hunger as a result of economic hardships. Hunger is another indirect pandemic the world is facing today. So many street children can’t access food and water if they can’t work on the street. Street children depend on their meager earnings to feed. Since the people these children work for stay at homes to protect themselves from the diseases, street children get little or no work to do. No work implies no money and no money implies no food. If this goes on for a long time, these children get weaker and lean each passing day and may resort to other unacceptable or immoral ways to survive.

During a partial lockdown in Accra during the COVID-19 pandemic, a 17-year-old girl was apprehended while on her way to visit her boyfriend, breaking the home confinement rules which were put in place to reduce the spread of the virus. The girl is reported to live with her family in a small kiosk at Odorkor Tipper. She decided to leave home to stay with her boyfriend till the lockdown is overdue to the economic hardship her family is facing in this pandemic. Pandemics strike individuals and counties with economic hardship too apart from the high mortality rate.

The last effect of pandemics on street children is the increased mortality rate among these children. Street children can’t seek medical care when they fall ill from diseases of the pandemic. Children affected with the disease may spread it to other street children and the lack of medical care for these children will result in an increased number of deaths.

To solve the problem of keeping street children safe during a pandemic, human rights activists, organizations for children right, and governments are to consider how street children cope during global emergencies like pandemics.

The safe shelter could be build all over the world to accommodate street children during a pandemic or any global crisis. Not only providing shelter for these street children but also providing them with adequate food supply and medical care. Providing funds for such an initiative could be challenging but if funds are to be raised the same way funds are raised to support the treatment of the diseases, street children would not be badly affected.

Pandemics reveal how close we are all related to one another and how we ought to support each other during such times in order to come out victorious. To protect each child, we must work together as a country and organization.

Columnist: Francisca Quayson, Contributor