Egypt’s homeless children worst hit by COVID19 pandemic
- Thousands of young people on the street have been struggling to survive during the lockdown with the disappearance of both the public and public spaces.
By some estimates, there are around 16,000 children and young adults on the streets in Egypt, a number that UNICEF considers a massive underestimation. The reason – many of these children are themselves from families that are poor, out of the social security blanket and haven’t been enumerated in civil society registries.
These thousands of children who roam the streets selling trinkets, cleaning cars or begging have always been most vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual exploitation. With the onset of their pandemic, the violence may have reduced but so has the money they made on the streets and whatever little social shelter they had.
With more than 83,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the country and nearly 4,000 deaths, Egypt had been shut down for the better part of three months. This also included the closure of mosques, churches and public schools which afforded the kids some form of shelter, a place to clean up and even eat. This compounded the struggles from the sudden disappearance of their meagre incomes and the reduced access to social support because of the economic downturn and lockdown measures.
One way civil society workers have been reaching out to affected children is through established programmes like “Atfal bala ma’wa” (Children Without a Home), which was set up in 2016 to integrate street children and help them abandon street behaviour. This consists of 17 mobile units that provide a place of rest, food, games and medical, social and psychological support to these children.
Now they are being used to amplify the message about health and sanitation to help children protect themselves against the disease. Mask are distributed and the children a taught how to properly wash their hands. The lifting of restrictions has come has some relief for the children who are able to go back to a semblance to normal life with access to their old means of income and places of worship which had been serving as their sanctuary so far.