For the cause of the homeless: How medical professionals can help in improving the conditions of children living on the streets
- By Padma Shri Awardees - Dr Marthanda Pillai, National President and Dr KK Aggarwal, Honorary Secretary General, Indian Medical Association
In the era of globalization and industrialization, it’s the economically backward who suffer the most, especially children. They are drawn to the streets due to the global financial and economic crisis, which has contributed to family break-ups, social upheaval and disruptions in healthcare and education. Some of them who can manage to find a daily income resource for themselves still continue to battle it out, but the ones who are too young and cannot find an appropriate source of income are frequently neglected and abused, remain on the streets. Although, there are many NGOs and other establishments working to decrease the numbers, but somehow we still find the innocent sauntering on the streets. This problem is prevalent in a variety of communities around the world, and has become a global phenomenon.
Street children are exposed to situations that make them vulnerable to a variety of health problems ranging from traumatic injuries to acute diseases. In a recent meeting held at Moscow, the World Medical Association stressed on raising awareness within civil and medical society about the fundamental role played by medical contact in improving the situation of street children.
To bridge the gap, it is important that medical professional try to establish contact with the street children keeping trust as the most important pillar in mind. The WMA has urged all the medical and social establishments to come together for socializing street children with physicians by building trust amongst them. And after that, a more lucrative global multidisciplinary and multidimensional approach should be adopted to improve the well being of street children further.
Additionally, it is important to implement equality in healthcare for ensuring that these street children avail the basic medical facilities.
WMA aims at address child homelessness by:
· Condemning any violations of the rights of children living on the streets and any infringements of these rights, in particular discrimination and stigmatization and their exposure to abuse, violence, exploitation and manipulation, including trafficking
· Eliminating the factors, which lead to children living on the streets and to take action to implement all applicable legislation and systems of protection to reduce the health implications for street children. National authorities have an obligation to provide care for all children and, where necessary, to support their return to a living environment appropriate for a child
· Reducing health implications includes not only direct treatment of health issues but also protection of Street Children from health risks such as exposure to drugs, HIV infection, smoking and drinking
· Calls upon governments, national medical associations and healthcare professionals to acknowledge the scale of this phenomenon and to instigate prevention and awareness campaigns. These children must be able to access the full range of necessary health and social protection
· Urges all national medical associations to work with legal counterparts, governments, health care professionals and public authorities to ensure the fundamental rights of children, who are a particularly vulnerable population in need of protection, particularly access to healthcare and education. The right to food and housing should be guaranteed, and any form of discrimination or exploitation should be forbidden
· Condemns any improper age-assessment practices that make use of insufficiently reliable clinical or Para clinical investigations. Until they reach adulthood, adolescents must be able to enjoy their status as minors, as recognised by the UN International Convention on the Rights of the Child
· Urges physicians to remain vigilant in terms of delivering all the support required to provide suitable and comprehensive care for 'street children'. Physicians should be aware that homelessness is a pervasive problem
· Maintains that every effort should be made to provide all children, and particularly those that are homeless, with access to a suitable and balanced psycho-social environment, in which their rights, including the right to health, are respected