‘Will we die of hunger?’: how Covid-19 lockdowns imperil street children

Report From: The Guardian

 Timothy, a teenager on the streets of Mombasa, wonders how he will eat. “Rich people can stay home … because they have a store well stocked with food,” he says. “For a survivor on the street your store is your stomach.”

However, says another, if the rumours are true and street children are arrested in the city during the Covid-19 crisis, he’d be happy to go to Shimo women’s prison, because there “you are sure to get free food, shelter and medical services”.

As the pandemic takes hold across the globe, few groups are as vulnerable as the children who rely on the streets for food and shelter, who risk being further stigmatised and criminalised when cities lock down. In Kenya’s second city, a 7pm–5am curfew has been imposed, and fear is mounting.

“We are all really worried,” says Bokey Anchola, country director for Glad’s House, an NGO working with hard to reach young people in Kenya. “Street children are having a rough time during the curfew. Food and water are a real problem as hotels and eating places where they would normally get food have closed down. Movement is restricted.”

The closure of eateries, drop-in centres and feeding services, as well as the limits on movement, are just some aspects of a terrifying scenario for street children during the pandemic, say those working with young people in Kenya and elsewhere.

“Street children are precisely in the space that everyone is supposed to be getting out of,” says Duncan Ross, CEO of UK-based StreetInvest, which has launched an urgent appeal for its partner organisations working with street children and is calling for cities to allow them to lead the response. “The usual response to these children is: ‘how do we get them off the streets’, and Covid-19 has brought this into sharp focus.”

A global total of 100 million street children is often quoted, but the true number is believed to be much higher.

Street children are also likely to be caught up in outbreaks in slums, where social distancing and good hygiene are hard to observe.

For homeless youth like Alfred, in Mombasa, for now the most pressing reality is the need for food. “The police have told us they don’t want to see us around after 7pm. Are we going to die of hunger instead of coronavirus?”