It is said that children are the future of every nation. But why does it seem like we are squandering this human capital which holds our future in their hands? The inevitable intersection of poverty and homelessness makes our children vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, violence and disease. Child homelessness is a problem for both developed and developing nations. Homelessness severs the victim from interconnected social structures.
The World Health Organization claims that there are over 100 million children who are homeless in the world. Most of them are known as street children in their respective societies.
In the United States, the DoSomething.org claims that there are 1.7 million homeless adolescents. The National Center for Family Homelessness says nearly 1 in 30 children experiences homelessness in the United States each year. In some states such as Kentucky the figures are higher-about 1 in 15 children experience homelessness each year. The risk factors for child homelessness are many including home foreclosure rates, failure of parents to pay rent, illness or death of parents, and joblessness of parents leading to evictions.
In some parts of the world vulnerable homeless children are conscripted into armies to serve as child soldiers and to be indoctrinated and turned into killer machines. In other societies, homeless children start early using illicit drugs to muster enough courage to go through the rigors of street life for survival such as committing violence, robberies and engaging in illicit sexual activities. In India it is claimed that the movie, Slum Dog Millionaire, was child’s play in comparison to the actual plight of homeless children there. In Africa, AIDS has left in its wake thousands of homeless or street children open to all forms of exploitation.
Homeless children have more health problems than their counterparts who are not homeless. For example, they are four times more likely to be sick. They have twice as many ear infections, five times as many gastrointestinal problems and asthma, they go hungry twice as often as other children and have emotional and behavioral problems that are three times as high as other children. Sometimes high rates of nutritional deficiencies end up in obesity which is a risk factor for a host of health conditions. It is reported that by the age of 12 some of these children have been exposed to at least one violent or traumatic event. These risk factors culminate into high rates of developmental problems and mental disorders among these children and yet only a few of them receive professional help.
Is child homelessness a sole responsibility of government? Is it the responsibility of charity organizations alone? What are we doing as individuals to alleviate the suffering of these the least of our brethren? To those who thought children to be insignificant, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). How shall we lead them to Him if we turn away from their plight?