A Childhood on the Streets

Every day, about 100 million street children face violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and sometimes, murder

Every day, millions of children around the world face neglect, abuse and poverty that force them to live and or work in the streets where they have to face more threats including violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and sometimes murder. The problem of street children is one from which no country is immune, they can be found in a majority of the world’s cities and more especially in densely populated urban hubs or developing, or economically unstable regions, such as a number of countries in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, Africa or Eastern Europe.

Street children differ in age, gender, social class and ethnicity and all of them have had different experiences throughout their lifetimes. According to UNICEF three different categories of children are street-connected: candidates for the street (they work and hang out on the streets), children on the streets (they work on the streets by go back home at night) and children of the streets (they live on the streets with no family support whatsoever).

The International Day for Street Children was launched in 2011 by the Consortium for Street Children (CSC), a UK-based network of related NGOs dedicated to raising street children’s voices, promoting their rights and improving their lives through advocacy, research and network development. CSC has a network of members in over 130 countries, including international NGOs, global corporations, small charities and affiliated groups of street children. 

Who are they?

Street child

It is a common misconception however that street children only exist in the developing world. According to a British survey, the level of young homelessness in the UK is widely underestimated, with 61% of people for whom street children are solely associated with Africa and Asia. The term “Street Children” covers actually a wide variety of circumstances; they can be found in Dehli’s slums, as on the streets of London, Paris or Madrid. Depending on where they live, their situations differ. 

Street children in  developed nations are usually treated as homeless children, while other countries see them as a nuisance and consider them as they would of criminals and beggars. It is to be reminded that in extreme cases street children can be chased and murdered by ‘cleanup’ (death) squads hired by local businesses or the police. 

How many of them?

It is not known how many children live on the streets or depend on the streets for their survival or development. According to UNICEF, it is estimated that 100 million children are growing on urban streets worldwide, although the exact number of street children is impossible to quantify due to a number of reasons, including their lack or permanent location or differences in opinion on how to define and identify them.

Why do they live on the streets?

Street children

The causes of the phenomenon are varied but often relate to poverty, family breakdown, violence, natural disasters, political unrest, forced marriages and or sexual, physical or emotional abuse. In addition, in some countries children may end up living on the streets due to cultural factors. In some parts or Uganda or Congo, some children are forced to leave their family after they have been suspected to bring bad luck upon their families. In Afghanistan, young girls who refuse an arranged marriage may also be forced to leave their homes. 

There are also factors which can tempt children into leaving their homes, including factors such as financial independence, adventure, friendship and city glamour. According to CSC, it is often a combination of these push and pull factors which not only lures them into leaving their family, but also keeps them connected to the street. 

What risks do they face?

Substance abuse is a common way for street children to numb the reality of what they live on the streets. In developing countries they usually rely on glue or solvent-sniffing as this is the most affordable option. Street children also experience direct exposure to violence, most of them have repeatedly reported suffering violence in the hands of adults, the police and other children. 

Girls on the streets are especially vulnerable to sexual violence from adults and other street children. They are at particular risk of being trafficked into brothels or enticed into households for domestic work. As a result, street girls are prone to contracting HIV and other STDs and many young mothers live on the streets.

About CSC – Consortium for Street Children

Upcoming, Tuesday, April 14 – an interview with George Odalo, founder and executive director of Slum Child Foundation, an NGO developing outreach programs for street children and vulnerable youth in Nairobi (Kenya)