Climate Crisis & Street Children: working together now to protect them

Published 08/25/2021 By Jess Clark

At the beginning of August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  released their sixth report on climate change. Last week, UNICEF introduced the Children’s Climate Risk Index revealing that 1 billion children are at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of climate change. Both are reports that give a detailed picture of where we stand, warning us that humankind is at a critical tipping point to respond to future climate risks.

The evidence presented by these reports shows that climate change is the greatest threat the world faces, with children and young people being those whose lives will be affected most by the climate emergency.

This blog will share the scenario that street-connected children face now that we are at a very delicate moment where devastating climate impacts are accelerating. The decisions we take will be critical to ensure that children are not affected by the worst-case outcome scenario. Action is needed to change the damaging effects of humanity’s activities on the environment and what we can do better to prepare to help those at most significant risk of harm.

Street-connected children’s risks

Climate change is already taking a toll on children’s safety, education, and healthcare. Aid relief efforts need to be accessible even without ID or a household, so street children are not discriminated against. As an under-sampled group of children, street children are a heterogeneous population with different levels of dependency on the street or in public spaces and their families. Children who live in slums, informal settlements, and on the streets of urban and rural areas are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Their exposure to more frequent extreme weather events, disease outbreaks, and temperature fluctuations is exacerbated by rooted poverty, economic recession, youth unemployment, and weak institutions.

When it comes to heat waves or severe rain, street-connected children lack adaptability. A significant number of street children work as street vendors. Drastic temperature changes increase the risk of heart strokes, heat-related dehydration, acute respiratory diseases, and water-borne infections. Illnesses and restrictions on mobility–for example, due to flooding– can cause street children to lose their daily wages. Securing food becomes a problem without money. Food prices increase during heavy rains and droughts, thus putting street children at risk of food shortages and malnutrition.

Droughts, floods, and severe weather associated with climate change affect street children’s access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In heavy rainfall scenarios, street children may suffer serious injuries or risk drowning due to the disruption to the environment. Floods and landslides result in material losses to infrastructure such as their homes, service facilities, recreational facilities, and the destruction of playgrounds, limiting their development.

Environmental hazards will alter the availability of seasonal jobs for those who depend on agriculture, processing factories and farming, thus disrupting an otherwise stable income. In addition, climate catastrophes can cause an increase in migration by children and adolescents.

Displacement through natural disasters is another phenomenon that has seen rapid growth. Natural disasters push street children and their families to migrate to other locations to survive. Migrant children are typically unreached by child protection services and more vulnerable to violence. As a result of forced displacement, family support and support networks are lost, resulting in a loss of sense of belonging to any place on the part of the street child. Added to this are the difficulty of a loss of identity, the mental trauma caused by sudden life changes brought by natural emergencies, and the problems of accessing appropriate psychosocial treatment.

Climate change threatens street children’s survival, development, nutrition, education, and access to health care – all of which are children’s rights and shrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

What you can do

Call for their needs to be heard

Children who live and work on the streets are not a homogeneous population. It is critical to conduct in-depth research on the effects of climate change on each subgroup. Such understanding is crucial when it comes to designing child-centred, resilient cities. Support the mapping of street children in your country. Not only in terms of their numbers but also in terms of their living and working situations, which should include the variety of climatic and non-climate hazards they face.

Street children should be included in climate risk protection decision-making processes. They are a population at risk, and therefore the inclusion of street children should be continued. Providing additional funding to non-governmental organisations with programmes that include activities in climate emergencies is the first step. Calling for the creation of shelter centres or temporary relocation homes is also a good start. Promote the creation of drop-in centres, which can serve as a base for satisfying the practical needs of street children and as a venue for developing adaptive capacity. Training government social workers to protect children and their rights in the face of climate disturbances is another appropriate step to call for. In addition, the creation of special emergency funds for children should be encouraged. As the pandemic has shown, working teams on the streets cannot be stopped, and they must get guarantees to continue their work with street-connected children.

The construction of new or renovated settlements or neighbourhoods can be valuable to address the fundamental infrastructure necessary for future weather protection and children’s health. There are several examples of low-cost infrastructure that have been constructed with community engagement and in collaboration with local government that serve as inspiration for future spaces. Quality and safe spaces and facilities can help create a secure location for street children to build a sense of community.

Advocate with your government

Check that your local and national government has a climate change risk mitigation and adaptation plan. It is relevant to include children and adolescents who require tailored attention, especially street children, who are frequently excluded from preparedness plans. You can use our advocacy guide to design a strategy requesting inclusion and an integrated climate preparedness approach to protect street children from climate emergencies and give them access to the appropriate aid they are entitled to.

Get in touch with young climate change advocates

In recent years, children and young people have taken to the streets demanding climate change is now the defining human rights challenge of this generation, becoming a key stakeholder in addressing the climate crisis. Via social media, you can follow young people who have been leading the fight and demanding action by decision-makers. They have access to a public platform and visibility that street children do not have, thereby getting the demands easier across.

Following and supporting the movement of young climate activists in your region is a great starting point. Through them, you can better understand the picture from a unique point of view, acknowledge the crisis’s status, and join efforts to save the planet. We believe that the voices of children and adolescents are powerful and valuable in ensuring that rights protection policies and environmental policies are child-sensitive and have a child-rights approach.

More emphasis should be placed on equality and inclusion in policy, particularly how socially marginalised populations cope with natural catastrophes. We highly recommend disaggregating data by multiple indicators on a national level to better understand the link between disasters, climate change, and street-connected children. This can help policymakers, and program implementers enhance street children’s long-term well-being and adaptive abilities as they are still a blind spot in policy planning.

Help us raise street children’s voices

Our most recent campaign sought to enable street children to access the long-term support they need to survive the Covid-19 pandemic and be kept safe and healthy.

Increasing the resilience and delivery of social services is a critical way to improve the chances of the most vulnerable children. Improved social services such as health care, access to sanitation, education, nutrition, social safety nets are essential strategies to develop a more resilient society that can minimise the worst effects of climate change on street children.

The support of our donors will make it possible for us to empower our members and providing valuable assistance in response to future emergencies. In addition, by supporting our work, we will demand at the highest levels to do everything possible to protect the future of street children and ensure that they are not being abandoned. Read more about the impact of your donations here.

Children have been engaging via street protests, online activism, and lawsuits to call out government inaction on climate change. They are, in many instances, at the forefront of environmental movements and must be recognised as the agents of change and human rights defenders that they are. We need to follow them closely to stop more climate degradation and build resilient communities,