Watch our interview with Skye Maconachie, co-CEO of The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation
Vũ Thu Hà and Paul Kennedy
HÀ NỘI — A leading charity in Hà Nội says there has been a threefold increase in the number of children living on the streets, forced from their homes in search of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation has helped thousands of disadvantaged youngsters get their lives back on track.
But in March alone they have identified 30 new juveniles sleeping rough in the capital.
“Normally we would meet about 10 new street kids every month in Hà Nội. In March we met about 30,” Skye Maconachie, co-CEO, told Việt Nam News.
“Kids are not in school, their families are not earning income and they might come from a home where there is already abuse in that home, or some difficulties or complexities.
“So they are coming to the streets of Hà Nội to try and earn money or get away from something.”
Although less than 5 per cent of COVID-19 patients in Việt Nam are under 18, Maconachie said the global pandemic is putting more children at risk.
A child sleeping rough on a street in Hà Nội. Photos courtesy of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation
The dedicated staff at the charity were given special dispensation to allow them to continue to patrol the streets during social distancing, handing out food, face masks, advice and support to youngsters.
Maconachie added: “Through the strict social distancing period, our teams still needed to respond to calls for help, so we did that in the safest way possible.
“We had an outreach team out on the streets every night here in Hà Nội because more and more children were out on the street and they needed support with food, they needed face masks and they needed to understand the situation and we would try to help and get them back to the countryside where possible.”
According to official statistics, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly 5 million workers as of mid-April in Việt Nam and that means an even more severe blow to the most vulnerable groups in society.
Maconachie said: “During the pandemic, the people we normally support have gone deeper into crisis.
“We are seeing families who are becoming homeless again, ending up back on the streets or working on the streets because they don’t have enough money to pay rent or food.
“We have seen a lot of our young people who we have helped get into jobs now be laid off because of the situation. And many of their families work day to day to survive.”
An impoverished family receive emergency supplies from Blue Dragon Children's Foundation staff.
Adding to this, the social distancing and international travel restrictions, which have helped contain the spread of the virus, made it even harder for groups like Blue Dragon carry out their support activities.
“We have victims of human trafficking calling for help and we have been unable to rescue them which is very, very challenging. Those women are in slavery and are at harm,” Maconachie said.
“In March we had 30 calls for help, so only women we were able to support over the phone. And we have now been able to start rescuing slowly. But currently, we have 25 victims waiting for rescue. So those numbers really have spiked.”
Although Việt Nam is doing a great job in containing the deadly pandemic, the charity head was still very cautious of what the future holds in case the pandemic worsens.
“A second wave of infection will be debilitating for a lot of the families that we work with,” she added.
“It takes time for them to recover from what has just happened and the risk is still going to be there. And the uncertainty for many months still.”
Despite the challenges, the Hà Nội-based NGO, which has had 17 years working to help street children and human trafficking victims, knows they have a vital role to play.
“Crisis is what we do. And we definitely will not give up,” Maconachie said.
“Our focus is to get to the victims of trafficking as soon as possible and get them home to Việt Nam. Our other focus is to get to the kids that have left home to work because of the school closures and because of the difficulties their families are facing.” — VNS