Homeless children at greater risk in coronavirus pandemic, says rights body

By Express News Service
NEW DELHI: With a surge in number of COVID-19 cases in the country, advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) urged the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to protect the rights of homeless children.

As the pandemic rages on, children living in street situations were at a greater risk in the absence of adequate housing and access to water, it said in its letter to NCPCR. Night curfews and lockdowns would pose further challenges to the children.

The Commission had earlier observed there was no comprehensive data on the number of children in street situations in the country. 

According to estimates by civil society organisations, there are over 2 lakh children in street situations in 10 cities across the country. Of the children identified, 58.1 per cent in the age group of 3 to 5 years had no formal education, one in four girls was sleeping on the street or footpath, and 43.8 per cent of children under the age of 14 rely on alms for a living, the HLRN pointed out.

The 2018 survey conducted by Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights showed 70,000 children in street situations in Delhi, living in highly inadequate conditions in multiple ‘hotspots’ across the city, the HLRN pointed out.

“The harsh lockdown and pandemic-related economic crisis have exacerbated homeless children’s already strained access to food, water, healthcare,and other basic necessities. They have also been adversely affected by school closures and the shift to online education. In the absence of access to ‘smart’ devices and data/internet, the overwhelming majority of homeless children lost access to education for the last academic year and continue to be deprived of their fundamental right to education,” said the HLRN in its letter.

The HLRN recommended providing adequate facilities, including drinking water, sanitation, nutritious meals, sufficient space, hygiene, recreation, and safe play areas to children. Shelter home caretakers/managers and the police should be sensitised to the needs of children in street situations, it said.