Living under bridges, alongside railways tracks, or literally on the side of the road, these children are vulnerable to exploitation and hardship on a harrowing scale. Today marks the International Day for Street Children. Now in its 6th year, this day aims to highlight the plight of street children across the world, promote their rights and improve their lives. It is on days like these that we must force ourselves to think about the uncomfortable realities that exist the world over.
The charity I run, Kidasha, provides support to children in Nepal who live on the streets. It’s estimated that at least 5,000 Nepali children live in this harsh reality, with numbers driven up further by the 2015 earthquake which caused such devastation. Life for these children is grim. Many fall victim to trafficking or exploitation. Few make it back into education or to their families without sustained help from charities such as ours.
Perhaps most shockingly, 4 out of 5 street children in Nepal turn to solvent abuse to cope with the chronic hunger and daily trauma they experience. In the Western world, our reluctance to give to the homeless is often predicated on a reluctance to find drug or alcohol abuse. But for these children, life is so desperate that solvents are their only escape. Sniffing glue eases their pain and provides the comfort other children receive unconditionally from their families.
Unless local and national governments develop tailored, informed strategies to help these children and provide them with a future, the chronic issue of youth homelessness will continue to go unchecked. The issue, worsening due to the highest levels of forced displacement since records began, receives little attention. Charities with increasingly stretched resources are left to help those we can reach. But the numbers are against us and only a coordinated effort from the international community can help turn the almost unfathomable figure of 100,000 million to what it should be: zero.
This is not an issue confined to far-away destinations. As ‘The Jungle’ was dismantled in Calais late last year, children immediately started disappearing. Support groups on the ground tried to draw attention to the woeful lack of support in place for unaccompanied children, but scores of minors had already slipped through the cracks, falling into the hands of traffickers, or worse.
On days like today, where the plight of street children has a small window to make its mark on the public consciousness, it’s essential that policy makers and members of the public do what they can to alleviate some of this heart-breaking suffering. Whether that’s donating to charities who have a presence on the ground and a track record of sustainable success, or supporting the Consortium for Street Children (CSC) petition calling for a UN recognised day for street children.
No child should be left to fend for themselves and the reality is, we’re all they’ve got.
International support for street children is growing. Read the new UN General Comment on Street Children here