India has now recorded more than 1.4million confirmed coronavirus infections - the world’s third biggest caseload after the US and Brazil. Infections are rising to new all-time highs almost every day. Scotland-based GP and Friends of Salaam Baalak Trustee, Justin Barnes, highlights how the pandemic, and the resulting lockdown, are affecting street connected children.
In this article, we use the term Street Connected Children to include those that live alone or in groups without families and those that live full time on the street with their families.
How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting street connected children?
Worldwide research undertaken by the Consortium for Street Children has identified the following issues affecting street connected children and their families:
inability to social distance and therefore more likely to catch and transmit Covid-19
inability to hand wash and clean surfaces and therefore more likely to catch and transmit Covid-19
reduced access to education and therefore loss of opportunities
increased risk of forced labour and abuse due to even more unstable situations
increased cost of living with concern about hunger and starvation, increased food prices, loss of income
inability to follow ‘stay home, stay safe’ advice leading to discrimination and sometimes incarceration
reduced access to food and water with usual street sources closed or inaccessible due to lockdown
reduced access to healthcare due to restrictions on services
Image: The unusually quiet streets of Delhi.
How is the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown affecting Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) beneficiaries in Delhi?
Whilst they remain as safe as possible, with staff on strict two week rota systmes, the children living in Salaam Baalak Trust shelter homes have been significantly impacted by the lockdown in Delhi. Children have had to stay indoors, often in cramped conditions, 24/7 for many weeks with minimal access to natural light. With all schools are closed, education has been reduced to a minimum and, unlike in many countries where access to the internet has been utilised to the full during the crisis, the vast majority of SBT beneficiaries have no access to the internet.
Meanwhile, children living on the streets during lockdown are severely affected by poor access to food and water, lack of employment, increased likelihood of mistreatment and a reduction in support services that could help them to improve their situation.
How will SBT beneficiaries in Delhi be affected once the healthcare crisis is over? Once the peak of the Covid-19 healthcare crisis is over, it is expected that all parts of India will be affected by an economic recession. Economic recessions are well known to exacerbate many of the vulnerabilities faced by street connected children for years to come. Increased migration can lead to increased numbers of street connected children in cities including Delhi, meaning reduced work availability and income. This makes them even more vulnerable. Added to this is the fact that funding for charities such as SBT has reduced significantly as government and private donors tighten their belts to pay for the immediate impact of Covid-19 in India.
What is the impact on the City Walk programme?
The City Walk programme is vital to Salaam Baalak Trust for a few reasons:
It provides training and work experience to some of the 16-18 year olds staying in a SBT shelter home.
It connects with, and educates, thousands of tourists from India and across the world each year.
It is a key source of unrestricted funding, which SBT Trustees channel into the areas of most need.
Like most of the world, tourism in Delhi has completely dried up. The City Walk, entirely dependent on tourism, is unlikely to operate at all in 2020 - while the peak tourist season of December to March seems increasingly doubtful.
Image: The City Walk, pre-pandemic
What can be done to help?
Thanks to the generosity of supporters like yourselves, Friends of Salaam Baalak Trust has been able to send £13,000 so far this calendar year to Salaam Baalak Trust in Delhi. This will be used to help them to continue providing safe shelter, food and healthcare to the increasing number of vulnerable children in their care, and to attempt to plug some of the vast funding gap that currently exists for the charity.
If you are able to donate, please do so here. We are also keen for supporters to organise socially-distanced awareness events and fundraisers for Friends of Salaam Baalak Trust, so if this is something you think you can do, we'd love to hear from you.