The impact of COVID on children on the streets of Bolivia
Street children in Bolivia
Recent reports state there are only 750 ventilators available for a population of approximately 11 million
Prior to the pandemic, over 80% of Bolivians did not have access to stable or secure employment
Numbers of children in poverty are likely to rise by 22% in Latin America (UNICEF)
Lynne Morris, Toybox CEO, comments: “The economic and social fall out from this global crisis will be long-lasting, and is likely to impact vulnerable children the most. The latest research by UNICEF anticipates that the numbers of children in poverty are likely to rise by 22% in Latin America.
“As one of the poorest countries in the region, the majority of the Bolivian population depends on the informal economy. Prior to the pandemic, over 80% of Bolivians didn’t have access to stable or secure employment and many of the street children and families our partner, Alalay, works with are dependent on casual work, living a hand-to-mouth existence.
“With shops, restaurants, markets and drop-in centres across the country closed, and ways of earning an income deteriorating, we know the vulnerability of these children and young people is ever-increasing and, as a result, more and more are going to sleep hungry.
Toybox support for street children during the covid pandemic
“We also know that there are minimal levels of essential medical equipment and recent reports state there are only 750 ventilators available for a population of approximately 11 million.
“Before the country’s lockdown, our partner distributed hygiene kits to children on the streets and ran public demonstrations on effective handwashing. Alalay has been working hard to place children with extended families and, where this has not been possible, finding them places in shelters where they can access food and healthcare.
lockdown for street children in bolivia
“During Bolivia’s strict lockdown, street-connected children were hustled off the streets and into temporary shelters. Some returned to extended family members, often going back to the very situation that drove them onto the streets in the first place. The team here at Toybox, and our partners, are hugely concerned about the impact of Covid 19 on street-connected children, not just because of the virus itself, but the additional threats caused by the lockdown; a reduced supply of food and water, access to any kind of medical care and support, and concerns around their safety from potential predators.
“Street children no longer have the much needed escape of school, and their desperation to survive on the streets could very well lead them down a path of drugs, exploitation and to become involved in crime.”
“Alalay has found the restrictions have meant that keeping in contact with street children has been very challenging. Street-connected children are entirely dependent on the streets for food and water, and a place to stay. Hunger is an immediate and daily challenge. Alalay is continuing to provide food to vulnerable children and youth in shelters, and supplying food vouchers so they can choose and cook their own meals. Many of the children are currently living in a temporary government shelter.”
what will happen to street children after the pandemic?
“Bolivia has been in lockdown for a number of weeks, but measures are now being eased including opening on state institutions, public transport and some businesses. As lockdown measures are eased this week, our partner is again pushing to ensure children who are without a birth certificate or ID document, without which accessing essential health services is extremely difficult. Our partner has expressed concerns that the easing of lockdown measures will lead to a spike in the number of people infected as people return to crowded markets and public transport.”
“A big part of the work that our charity undertakes in Latin America is to work with partners there to implement long term measures to encourage children to leave the streets, to look forwards, and build a future. One of our biggest projects is birth registration.
toybox birth registration
“In the last five years, we’ve been able to register 5,500 children in Latin America. It might seem like a piece of paper, but children without a birth certificate can’t continue their education, access medical care and support services, or even legal working opportunities, because they have no identity. Toybox helps to remove this barrier, following the particular countries’ process to trace midwives, nurses, extended family members and whomever else we need to, to provide a birth certificate for children.”
Visit our website to find out more about Toybox and our work with street children in Bolivia.
Street children being pushed into work during the pandemic
The pandemic has meant school closures and in turn children are being pushed into employment to help feed their families.
Toybox partner CHETNA (Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action) in India, believes that at least 55% of the children they have been engaging in the east and north-east districts of Delhi have turned towards working since the schools have been closed because of the pandemic.
That’s 325 children now carrying out domestic work, selling fruit and vegetables, cutting threads from garments, and even more dangerous work like peeling wires (burning and removing the plastic layer with a sharp knife) and waste picking instead of continuing their education.
The importance of school for street children
But it’s not just about education, children in school also receive a meal during the school day, which was replaced for a time by the central government’s mid-day meal programme, an allowance made available to each child. Sadly, this was also been disrupted by the pandemic and from July 2020 was to be replaced by a dry ration instead of an allowance, this can be wheat, dal, rice, oil which was to be distributed via schools.
Methods of online learning aren’t always possible, from access to technology being shared among the family and siblings, or just not available at all.
Financial impact of covid 19 on street families
Whilst not learning, children often work alongside family full time, supporting each other financially. Families have incurred debt, lost employment, in order to feed their children families are borrowing money. To make repayments children are joining the workforce.
Sanjay Gupta, Director at Toybox partner, CHETNA: “Every year NGOs like ours motivate thousands of children to get admission in government schools so that they can study, get a mid-day meal, and have constructive engagement. But the closure of schools has pushed children back to work due to the poor financial condition of their families. We request authorities to provide means for online education, creatively think about how mid-day meals can still be provided, provide education and recreational material, and most importantly do an assessment of how many children have been pushed to work or migrated.”
Online learning for street children
CHETNA has been working hard during the pandemic to deliver online learning where possible, or safely distributing learning resources such as worksheets to children, to further their learning develop skills and keep street children and their families engaged and invested in the children’s learning until they can safely return to school.
To find out more about our work during the pandemic take a look at the latest Toybox coronavirus report.
Take a look at our website to find out more about Toybox working with street children in India.
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Spotlight on period poverty in India
What is period poverty?
Period poverty is when access to sanitary protection just simply isn’t available, usually due to the associated cost, but there are also many other barriers. In 2020 women and girls in India experienced a shortage in supply as manufacturers turned their attention to producing face masks and for a time sanitary products were not on the Government essentials list during lockdown, shops remained closed and public transport reduced. The aftermath of this was not only issues with supply, increased costs, but the risk of associated health issues after seeking alternative methods of sanitary protection.
Period poverty in India
• Just 36% of India's 355 million menstruating female population use sanitary towels for protection.
• An estimated 70 percent of all reproductive health issues are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
• 1 in 10 girls below the age of 21 in India cannot afford sanitary products and use unhygienic substitutes.
Period poverty and street children
Reports tell us that 20-30% of street children in urban areas are female, often the only access to toilet facilities requires payment, adding to the financial burden associated with menstruation.
Period poverty and Covid 19
Covid related disruption led to women and girls resorting to the use of homemade alternatives including rags or cloth, toilet paper, newspaper, socks, cardboard, leaves and even mud, risking infection, for some street children however this was the norm even before the pandemic. Social distancing and fear of contracting Covid also presented the challenge of using communal toilets.
11-year old Sahana lives with her family in a small dwelling in one of Delhi’s most highly populated and congested slums. Life in this overcrowded slum is unimaginably challenging - there is just one toilet in the whole of the area, which since the outbreak of coronavirus, the family have been too scared to use.
Girls have found themselves using sanitary products for longer than recommended, again increasing the likelihood of infection which will often require medical support.
“During the time of this crisis, girls and their mothers have shared that they do not have any material to use during menstruation. The girls used to get old cotton clothes from where they used to work, but right now, they do not have anything that they can use during menstruation.” Pooja - SURE Project Coordinator, CHETNA
Period poverty and education
23 million girls in India drop out of school each year when they begin their period, those who remain in school might miss up to 5 days of school each month during their period.
Schools have been known to distribute sanitary protection and offer the use of toilets, however schools have been closed during the pandemic (currently they are closed again in Delhi), and of course are closed during school holidays.
Period poverty – how can you help?
The average cost associated with menstrual products in India which a female might need per month is 300 rupees or $4.20 per month. The average earnings of a daily wage worker is $1.90 so we can see the incredibly difficult decision faced by street connected families who have to prioritise feeding the family, not to mention those street children without a source of income. In 2020, Toybox issued 200 Period Packs as part of our emergency response work, this is something we would like to continue to do with your support.
We would like to see street connected girls continue with education programs, be protected from associated health risks and access much needed sanitary products without stigma or embarrassment. You can purchase a Period Pack containing sanitary products and a mini hygiene kit for a street child today for £3.
How else could you help? Arrange a fundraising event or take part in a fundraising challenge, take a look at our fundraising page for inspiration, visit our website to find out more!