Child Homelessness in Cameroon
A violent civil crisis over regional separatism, known as the Anglophone Crisis or Cameroonian Civil War, has decimated the Central African nation of Cameroon since 2017. One of the most disheartening consequences of the conflict is the extreme number of homeless children. As of 2019, Cameroon had over 900,000 internally displaced people, 51% of whom were children. Child homelessness in Cameroon has been a serious problem for many years, but the government has redoubled its efforts to combat housing shortages and population displacement.

Street Children

Homeless or impermanently housed “street children” are a growing problem in the urban centers of many developing countries. In Cameroon, where about 37.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, street children have been a prominent humanitarian concern for years. The escalation of the Anglophone crisis has produced significant increases in the number of children fending for themselves on the streets of Cameroon’s cities. In the past 10 years, the number of street children increased from around 1,000 to over 10,000.

A study that researchers at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal conducted found that most street children in Cameroon subsist on less than $0.85 USD per day. Many street children rely on begging, drug use and sex work to survive their harsh conditions. Less than 1% of the street children who the researchers surveyed considered the public’s attitude toward them to be supportive. These children are dangerously vulnerable, especially in active war zones. Conflict-induced devastation is one of the most significant causes of child homelessness in Cameroon.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Cameroon, worsening conditions for all citizens but hitting street children especially hard. Urban centers are less sanitary and more harmful than ever before, something that the homeless and under-housed feel most keenly. Over 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred in Cameroon and over 600 deaths.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the worst impacts of the Anglophone Crisis. As the global health crisis distracted the international community, both the military and armed separatist groups enacted more violence on civilians. This behavior endangers civilians directly but also causes many to flee their homes out of fear for their safety, increasing the number of Cameroon’s homeless dramatically. This surge in displaced individuals also stretches Cameroon’s already thin resources even more direly, worsening conditions for those already homeless.

Though the pandemic has increased the instability of living conditions for those on the streets, it has also given Cameroon’s government a stronger incentive to house street children, accelerating existing plans to provide housing to those who violence or poverty have displaced.

Initiatives to House Street Children

Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs is partnering with the Ministry of Health to house and support thousands of street children while screening them for COVID-19 in the process. It began clearing the streets in April 2020, with plans to find housing for 3,000 street children in the near future.

The children will either return to their families or enter housing or job training programs to develop skills like cooking and sewing. Regardless of their specifics, this program will provide shelter, safety and opportunities to thousands of street children. This initiative will house not only displaced or abandoned children but also orphans and children who are seeking asylum from nearby countries.

Street Child, a U.K. charity, is also working in Cameroon to help provide protection and education for homeless children. The organization emerged in 2008 and operates by partnering with local organizations in areas with high rates of child homelessness to make education more accessible. Street Child has helped over 330,000 children go to school. Now the initiative is working with local organizations and the Cameroonian government to help provide COVID-19 relief, and developing specific programs to improve the wellbeing of children who the conflict has directly affected. Street Child focuses on expanding access to education and alleviating the symptoms of child homelessness in Cameroon.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in BurundiThe East African country of Burundi is one of the poorest in the world. Its meager economy relies heavily on rainfed agriculture, which employs approximately 90% of the people there. Burundi is Africa’s most population-dense country and nearly three out of every four people live below the poverty line. One of the lamentable realities of Burundi’s poverty is the effects it has on children. Child poverty is a serious issue in Burundi and the country has a current score of 5.46/10 on Humanium’s “Realization of Children’s Rights Index.”  Burundi is deemed a black level country by Humanium, meaning that the issue of children’s rights is very serious.

The State of Child Poverty in Burundi

In Burundi, 78% of children live in poverty. Poverty especially affects children in the rural parts of the country. Poverty also disproportionately affects children of the indigenous Batwa people. Additionally, child poverty in Burundi has seen an unfortunate and notable increase since 2015, when violent unrest occurred following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement of a third term, which was unconstitutional. The roots of the poverty problem in Burundi stem from a few different factors, the most predominant one being hunger.

Chronic Hunger in Burundi

Despite having an agriculture-centric economy, more than half of Burundians are chronically hungry.  The lack of food in the country is due to the fact that even at the peak of the harvesting season, food production is too low to sustain the population. Food production in Burundi can only cover a person for 55 days of the year. The lack of food also means prices are much higher. As a result, it is not uncommon for households to spend up to two-thirds of their incomes on food, even during harvesting season. One reason for Burundi’s difficulties in growing enough food has been frequent natural disasters that destroy crops and yields.

Hunger and Education

Hunger is so prevalent and intense in Burundi that despite having free and compulsory school for children between the ages of 7 and 13, the country faces growing dropout rates due to hunger. Another problematic issue for Burundian children facing poverty is schooling after the age of 13. After 13, school is neither free nor compulsory, making it exponentially less accessible and thus reducing opportunities for upward mobility. Much of Burundi’s education system has been negatively affected by Burundi’s civil war, as schools were destroyed and teachers were unable to teach.

Street Children in Burundi

Burundi has many “street children.” As the name suggests, these children live on the streets and are incredibly poor, left to fend for themselves. Street children have no humanitarian assistance from the government and consistently face police brutality, theft and arrests. Kids in Burundi become street children because families are sometimes too poor and hungry to stay together or they have to flee from child abuse or family conflict.

Organizations Addressing Child Poverty in Burundi

Although the reality of the child poverty situation in Burundi is dire, there are good things being done to improve the situation. While the government in Burundi is not providing adequate help, there are several humanitarian organizations providing assistance to those in need.

The NGO, Humanium, works on raising awareness, partnering with local projects to help children and providing legal assistance to victims of children’s rights abuses. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also been working in Burundi since 1968 by providing food such as school meals, malnutrition rehabilitation to starved children and helping to improve food production. Additionally, organizations like Street Child are working to build schools and eliminate as many barriers to education as possible for children in Burundi and elsewhere. Groups like the WFP, Humanarium and Street Child do substantial work to help children in Burundi. It is vital that the work continues and that more organizations participate in alleviating child poverty in Burundi.

– Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

Protecting Children's Right to Health in Times of ConflictEvery child has the right to access quality health care. However, due to violence, destruction and displacement caused by armed conflict, millions of children find themselves barred from receiving basic medical and mental services. According to the United Nations, almost 250 million children are affected by armed conflict worldwide. Thus, the work being carried out by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is crucial to protecting children’s right to health in times of conflict.

How Children’s Health is Threatened by Conflict

In recent years, an unprecedented number of children—approximately 28 million—have been displaced by conflict. This displacement has often forced children to live in precarious living arrangements that pose a threat to their health. Children tend to fall victim to communicable diseases as they are unable to receive proper immunization. Additionally, refugee children encounter greater difficulties in accessing health care as a result of discrimination, language barriers or legal status.

Furthermore, today the number of attacks on hospitals during times of conflict is increasing. These attacks cause direct harm to children while also destroying the institutions where they would normally receive essential health care services.

UNICEF in South Sudan

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s work in South Sudan has been instrumental in protecting children’s right to health in the country during the civil war that began in December of 2013. UNICEF has been heavily involved in providing health services since the start of the conflict and had vaccinated 3,386,098 children against measles and “provided primary health care services to 3,631,829 children” between 2013 and 2017 period. Additionally, in 2017, UNICEF launched 51 “rapid response missions” to reach communities that are not typically recipients of food aid assistance, and was able to reach thousands of children facing malnutrition.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has distributed essential medicines and medical equipment, established “triage and screening points/areas for early recognition and referrals of suspected COVID-19 cases” and continued its psychosocial support services. UNICEF was also able to “treat 267,000 children under 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition” and vaccinated 312,272 children against measles in 2020 alone.

Save the Children in Yemen

Protecting children’s right to health care has been a top priority for Save the Children in Yemen. Due to an incredibly destructive and violent war that has now reached its fifth year, the health sector in Yemen has been severely affected as only 50% of the nation’s health care facilities are functional.

Save the Children has stepped in to support local health care clinics, providing emergency services, vaccinations and food assistance to child victims of airstrikes, bombings and alarming rates of severe acute malnutrition, which have already claimed the lives of thousands of Yemeni children.

The organization is the largest aid agency in the country. During the first four years of the conflict, Save the Children provided services to about three million children. It is committed to continuing its support efforts and raising awareness of the need for greater humanitarian aid funding to better protect children’s right to health in the country, especially with the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Rescue Committee in Syria

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is playing a vital role in protecting Syrian children’s right to health during a war that continues to displace millions of people. The organization provides health services to approximately 500,000 children within Syria and to thousands more who have fled to neighboring countries. Within Syria, IRC’s efforts include partnering with local groups to bring medicine and other medical supplies to those who need them, running clinics, “[mobilizing] teams to provide lifesaving trauma services, primary and reproductive care” and providing counseling services.

The IRC has expanded its medical services in Jordan to include primary health care and mobile outreach to Syrian refugees. Most Syrian refugees not living in refugee camps rely on the IRC to provide health care services and to treat communicable diseases. Additionally, in Iraq, the IRC provides “creative healing activities” to help Syrian refugee children dealing with war-related traumas.

Recently, the IRC has been heavily involved in working with local communities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and has launched various initiatives along with the World Health Organization to bring essential services to displaced Syrian children.

Humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children and the IRC are protecting children’s right to health in vulnerable and war-torn countries. However, there is still much to do to provide children with adequate healthcare and protection from preventable diseases and infections. Governments, non-profit organizations and donors from the global community must take action to support children’s right to essential health services. By protecting this vulnerable group, we take one more step toward equality and global health.

– Emely Recinos
Photo: Flickr

child poverty in costa ricaDespite being one of the most progressive countries in Latin America in terms of free education, no military and access to healthcare, there are still many people living in poverty in Costa Rica and the youngest people are oftentimes hit the hardest. More than 65% of poor Costa Ricans are under 35 years old and children under the age of 18 make up the largest group of the poor. Additionally, many of the children who are impacted by child poverty in Costa Rica are indigenous. When it comes to children, issues include child labor, child mortality and disparities in education.

Things to Know About Child Poverty in Costa Rica

  1. Primary school in Costa Rica is free and mandatory and many children have access to the education system. However, many children who come from poor families or rural areas miss out on education because they work to provide for their families. About 8% of children in Costa Rica are not educated and 9% of children from the ages of 5 to 14 are economically active as their families depend on the money their children generate. As a country that is a major producer of coffee, work and harvesting is a priority in Costa Rica. In fact, during the coffee bean harvest, the teachers and students in poor regions in Costa Rica go to the farms to work in order to afford school supplies.

  2. Costa Rica has a large number of child trafficking victims. About 36,000 children in Costa Rica are orphans and due to the lack of or dysfunction in their family structures, many of these children are at risk of exploitation, drug abuse and gang violence.

  3. Although Costa Rica has the longest life expectancy in Latin America and an effective health care system, there are still issues regarding child mortality. Roughly, 10% of children in Costa Rica die before reaching the age of 5. These are often the children who are born into families living below the poverty line, indigenous families or rural families.

  4. Violence against children in Costa Rica is a concern. In fact, there were over 700 sexual violence cases in 2009, though it is estimated that much more went unreported. The physical and psychological abuse and violence that children endure has serious consequences for their development and health.

SOS Children’s Villages

SOS Children’s Villages initially started with a commitment to caring for orphaned or abandoned children throughout the world. There are SOS Children’s Villages in three cities in Costa Rica: San José, Limón and Cartago. SOS Children’s Villages aim to address child poverty in Costa Rica. The organization provides Costa Rican children with day-care, education, medical services and vocational training, sports facilities and playgrounds. Children whose parents cannot take care of them are often taken in. The organization has a comprehensive approach: preventing child abandonment, offering long-term care for children in need and empowering young people with the resources to reach their full potential.

The organization’s YouthCan! program trains adolescents to enhance their skills and competencies in order to achieve employment. In Costa Rica, where almost 100,000 young people were unemployed in 2016, the youth development program lasts for three to 12 months. The program consists of life skills training, employability training and helping the youth find jobs and further training opportunities.

Through organizations like the SOS Children’s Villages, child poverty in Costa Rica can be successfully alleviated.

– Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Child Protection SystemThe child protection system in Greece has long been criticized for its lack of consistency and the inability to provide adequate protection for abused children. The lack of investigations, follow-up from social service professionals and incidents of returning children to the care of abusers are not uncommon.

A Lacking Child Protection System

While the lack of a sufficient child protection system has been attributed to the financial crisis, in Greece, child protection services were underfunded before the financial collapse. The inability to develop a structured and cohesive child protective system has denied many children of their rights. Reduction in personnel, lack of funds, insufficient resources and inadequate collaboration among social service entities have caused dysfunction within the child protection system.

The Institute of Child Health

The Institute of Child Health has taken a stand in many cases impacting the lives of the youth in Greece. The Institute of Child Health is overseen by the Greek Ministry of Health and has advocated for funding and mental health support for abused children. This entity has developed a protocol to allow the networking of services to meet the needs of children that are victims of abuse. Through unified procedures and the development of a digital records system, the organization has made efforts in the modification of the child protection system.

While the efforts made by the Institute of Child Health have been ignored by the Greek government, the government has implemented an initiative that will streamline processes and improve the conditions for child abuse survivors. Yet, the Greek government has been slow in implementing changes that will impact the lives of children systemwide. Currently, children of abuse are required to repeat their stories multiple times, risking retraumatization. With the implementation of the Child Houses or Child Advocacy Centers, testimonies are recorded. Through this method, children will only need to provide their testimony once. The implementation of this process is one step in addressing a significant problem within the child protection system.

Greece Implements New Adoption and Fostering System

For decades, many children entering the child protection administration have been placed in hospitals due to an incomplete foster care system. In Greece, the child protection system relies upon institutions, children’s homes operated by the state, the Greek Orthodox Church and NGOs, to provide care for children removed from their families. However, the lack of an adequate foster care system and institutionalizing children removed from their families presents another problem in the child protection system in Greece. Institutionalized children are subject to inadequate living conditions, living in wooden cages or tied to their beds, leaving children with life long trauma and further victimization. The children spend months in an institution due to being removed from their families and the inability to locate a suitable foster or adoption home.

In July 2020, Greece implemented a new adoption and fostering system that demonstrates progress toward revamping a crippled child protection system. With this new system, a more effective process will allow more accuracy in the evaluation of applications from prospective applicants. The new system establishes full transparency, documentation and expert control of the process. The Greek prime minister believes this implementation addresses past bureaucratic hurdles and will expedite the process of connecting children with families. Other steps that are in the works include the registration of minors in child protection and training of professionals that will work with prospective foster and adoptive parents.

The Need for Further Progress

Lacking child protection in Greece has jeopardized the safety and wellbeing of many children. Due to the lack of uniform protocol, collaboration among service providers and unclear mandates and responsibilities, children that enter the custody of child protective services continue to relive their abuse. While steps have been taken to rectify this problem, Greeks remain positive that further progress within the child protection system will come.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr