The COVID-19 pandemic and responses to it have brought new risks to street children and homeless youth in developing countries unlike any we’ve ever seen before. This population, already vulnerable before the onset of the pandemic, has largely been forgotten in emergency preparedness and response. As a result, street children and homeless youth face devastating direct and indirect consequences of this pandemic. Directly, street children are at increased risk of contracting the virus due to their limited ability to take preventative measures, and of developing complications if they contract the virus due to often having underlying health conditions and compromised immune systems.
Indirectly, with support services being shut down in many countries and children being persecuted and criminalised or otherwise punished for not having a home in which to isolate themselves, they are put at an increased risk of harm by the very measures governments have put in place to keep people safe. Pushed to the margins and with no means at all to make any money to provide for themselves as the public stays at home, street children are at increased risk of hunger and exploitation by adults.
This submission provides evidence of these risks before offering lessons learned from the work of Consortium for Street Children’s Network Member StreetInvest in Sierra Leone during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic which prove that street children and homeless youth can and should continue to be supported during public health emergencies. It draws attention to two implications for DFID’s global health strategy: 1) More data is required about the impact of COVID-19 on street children and homeless youths; 2) Review of public health strategies to highlight and safeguard street children and homeless youth’s specific needs during a pandemic.
Finally, it stresses the importance that international development funding places a proportion of its funding and budget to services specifically targeted at street children and homeless youth, especially for small local organisations who have the trust of street children and are in the best position to respond.