Years ago, along the cacophonous roads leading from Ramses Train Station in Cairo, I came across a small girl with a bright red headscarf weaving her way in and out of the slow-moving traffic, her bare feet shrouded in a haze of exhaust fumes. I watched as she banged on the windows of vehicles, the red of her headscarf a lurching traffic light forcing buses and trucks to a sudden halt. When drivers opened their windows to shoo her away, the girl pleaded for a chance to say something, running alongside the traffic to keep up. Uncowed by dismissive hand gestures or hastily resealed windows, she visited car after car, like a bee in a field of giant flowers, looking for a chance to speak to someone. She accepted the dregs of a water bottle and the tossed remains of snacks, but it wasn’t until she made one driver laugh, then another, that she finally received two precious coins.
Intrigued by the scene, I asked some Egyptian colleagues to help me talk to the girl. We found her sitting in the shade, against the pillar of a flyover, with a tiny boy, of three or four, huddled beside her. As we approached, the children stood up, ready to bolt, but we assured them we weren’t officials; we just wanted to talk. The girl was called Nadra. She was nine. As she spoke, her little brother nudged his head into the grimy folds of her dress and hid. Nadra explained that their widowed and bedridden mother spent her days in a lightless one-room shack on the outskirts of the city waiting for them to return with whatever they could find — some food, a bit of money, an item of clothing, a blanket for their shared bed mat.
Each day Nadra walked to central Cairo, dragging her little brother with her, to earn what she could by telling jokes to drivers. The jokes were based on improbable scenarios involving an Italian, a Frenchman and an Egyptian, or they were tales about hapless farmers from Upper Egypt getting lost in the maze of Cairo’s streets. Sometimes they were simply puns, a play on words. Nadra made them up from snippets of conversation she’d overheard or memorised from the television screens she paused to gaze at on her way back to her mother.
It seemed miraculous to me that a hungry, unschooled nine-year-old, who cared for a straggling younger sibling and a sick mother, could find it in herself to invent jokes and one-liners. But with her jokes, Nadra had found a unique way of wresting life-saving money from drivers who occasionally relented and dropped a small coin in her filthy palms, no doubt making sure not to touch her. Jokes were a weapon to shatter the indifference around her.
Ever since that defining meeting in Cairo, the resilience and ingenuity of street children has interested me, and despite numerous new encounters with street children across the world, Nadra has continued to haunt me; thanks to her, I began to wonder what society might really look like from the point of view of a street child, and to think about what it took to withstand the ordeals of homelessness. I yearned to know how Nadra managed to keep her imagination undefiled by the horrors of her life. Such questions deeply affected my work with excluded children and their education.
At the time I met Nadra, I was part of a project studying the conditions of children eking out a living on the streets of the Egyptian capital. Along with other colleagues from United Nations agencies, we interviewed a whole range of children. There were garbage-pickers and shoe-polishers, children who hawked their wares in market places, who led drivers towards spare parking places, cleaned windscreens or ran errands, chased tourists for loose change, or simply scrabbled through bins. Like street children in many countries, they described how the street was an unforgiving provider of life; how it could easily, and quickly, become the agent of death. They revealed how their waking hours were one long quest to subsist: scavenging, begging, bartering, scratching around for any means to pull through. Their eyes permanently scoured the pavements and roads for anything that might turn their lives around — a cigarette butt, a dropped banknote, a discarded piece of food, an abandoned scrap of clothing. Every breath they took had to be filled with resourcefulness.
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The phrase ‘street children’ is a much-used catch-all term for heterogeneous groups of children. Some live solely on the street, sleeping rough, finding shelter where best they can. Some spend their days in public spaces before returning to a family or a similar support structure in the evening. Others still live with their families on the streets. Overall figures don’t necessarily allow for these distinctions. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates there are currently more than 100 million street children worldwide — an estimate that is often quoted, with all categories of street child included. But it is those children who live solely on the street, away from a consistent adult presence of any kind, who are perhaps the most emblematic of the phenomenon. Research shows that these children leave, or are forced to flee, their homes for many reasons. Family breakdown and the death or illness of a parent are prime factors but, equally, natural disaster, conflict and abuse play their part.
While escaping to the streets is often a child’s only solution, the street provides an ephemeral freedom. It becomes mother, father, school and home. Survival rates are unsurprisingly low. Once on the street, a child can quickly get sucked into a life of violence and sexual exploitation, trafficking and substance abuse. Their existence is overshadowed by the urgent need to find a safe place to sleep and shelter. Those who do survive become forever alienated from mainstream society — and all the more menacing to it as they grow older.
There are cardboard boxes for beds, a few clothes hung over cracked rusting pipes, water collected in plastic bottles
Beyond the perpetual consternation of seeing young faces aged before their time, there is usually one detail that remains engraved in the mind after meeting a street child. That detail is often more potent than the generic attributes shared by many homeless children — premature deep wrinkles, raw eczema and psoriasis on the hands, rotting teeth, bodies stunted by malnutrition, patchy hair, lips cut with scabs, eyes dulled by substance abuse. One street boy in Mali, I remember, wore a pair of broken headphones round his neck. The end of the flex hung down to his bloated belly where his navel was buzzing with flies, a mass of wings, simmering and infected.
I recall a bleeding boy of only three or four in a doorway in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. He’d been beaten by a group of older children and was hunched over in the fetal position. His clenched fist clutched a hunk of bread that he had valiantly refused to surrender to his assailants: dry bread saturated with blood. Then a girl in Morocco, on the edge of Zagora and with the desert behind her, who put down the tray of food she was selling and showed me how she could write her name. A billowy sleeve concealed her hand as she traced into the dirt the letters of the only word she could spell. It was as if she’d conjured it from some hidden compartment. And in Bucharest, Romania, I watched a boy in a sagging, buttonless overcoat upturn the bins outside McDonald’s. With expert skill, he flicked through the rubbish, prising open boxes, rooting out unfinished food. He chucked the remains of burgers over a wall to some waiting friends. Then — like a champion smoker attempting to accommodate 50 cigarettes at once — he rammed as many chips as he could into his mouth and sucked on them.
Munkhbat changes the date on his watch. Apart from the clothes he is wearing this is his only possession in life. Photo by Richard Wainwright
In Mongolia, subterranean societies, free from adults, have been created by street children seeking refuge from hostile strangers, and the biting cold. Many of the buildings in the central part of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, are heated, thanks to a labyrinth of pipes built in the Soviet era to carry scalding water from power stations on the edge of the city. Manholes dotted around the pavements lead to grubby cavities where makeshift platforms can be set up above the water pipes. Vagrant minors live in groups, the oldest of them often taking charge in an unstructured way. Disease is rife, but a semblance of a home is created amid the dark and fetid heat. There are cardboard boxes for beds, a few clothes hung over cracked rusting pipes, water collected in plastic bottles. Once children retreat into this world it is hard to persuade them to resurface. The purposes of mainstream society soon wither away, as does trust in fellow humans. A woman who ran an education project for deprived youths in Ulaanbaatar told me that the greatest issue she faced was persuading the street children of the city to take advantage of the washrooms she provided. The children understood that it would benefit them to have a warm and disinfecting shower, but the inconvenience of removing and then replacing the newspaper they wrapped themselves in to keep warm was too great a challenge. One child took so long to rebind himself in new layers of newspaper that he missed his only literacy lesson. Others preferred to take any food they were offered and disappear back underground, unwashed, only to be further shunned by society as a result.
The police of Ulaanbaatar regularly do the rounds of the city to pick up stray children. Any they find are taken to a holding centre on the outskirts of the capital and kept there until they can be filtered off to various state institutions. Some then escape back to the street, only to be rounded up again later. In 2008, I was talking to the well-disposed policeman in charge of the holding centre when a van with the latest batch of children arrived. The back doors opened and a jumble of spindly legs, ragged clothes and knotted hair spilt out. The children were herded into the building and lined up in single file. There was a queue of up to 30, some already in their teens. Their hacking coughs and scratching spread in a ripple down the line. A toddler with bare legs and thin hair was passed from one teenager to another to hold. Once on the floor she walked up and down the queue of children looking for familiar faces, tugging on legs she knew. At no point did she look towards the adults present: we were unfamiliar and ghostly presences with no relevance to her life. In the neon-lit centre, the children breathed and acted as one, acutely aware of the divide between them and everyone else.
The police centre, its naked lighting, lino flooring and ringing phones: this was the hostile world they had fled by heading down the manholes into the dark and diseased warmth. One by one, the children were asked to register their details with an official. Some, inevitably, had been to the centre before. Others were new to the police. Some had no idea of their birthdays, original addresses, or the names of their parents. After being washed and having their hair cut, the children reappeared in assortments of ill-fitting second-hand clothes that had been donated to the centre; Mickey Mouse T-shirts with tracksuit bottoms, shorts with wool jumpers, hoods and gloves. Some had found no tops their size and had covered themselves as best they could, their ribs sticking out from under scarves or shrunken vests. The toddler girl wandered aimlessly in purple pyjamas with fluffy slippers. In a heap in one corner lay the rags that the children had arrived in — putrid jumpers and trousers, chafed shoes with split soles.
I once attended a workshop where we were asked to note down those characteristics of street children that could be built on in education programmes. Entrepreneurship, combativeness, perseverance and a critical eye were listed by several participants. Indeed, the entrepreneurship of street children is often put forward in education schemes. Many display impressive dexterity with numbers, having had experience counting small change, and bargaining with people they suspect will cheat them out of their meagre earnings. Their ability to talk and persuade can be exploited, too. Yet systems of schooling for which children require certificates, addresses and all the paraphernalia of formal education are not best suited to children of the street. More flexible and innovative approaches to learning, weaving in counselling, health care, life skills, technical and vocational training, have more chance of having an impact.
The Lotus Children’s Centre in Mongolia, for example, has a constant eye on breaking the cycle of poverty while children are in its care, training them for future employment. Contact with vulnerable families is maintained and nurtured where possible. The Moroccan NGO Bayti follows a similar approach, putting an emphasis on socialising skills for re-entry into mainstream society. The Fundación Renacimiento in Mexico City offers bakery, carpentry and computing, as well as electrical engineering programmes to former street children.
To qualify for these courses, the children have to pass through a staged programme that requires them to renounce drugs and violence of any kind, and to build a specific life project with counsellors and educators. Rebuilding a life is no easy undertaking for children who carry layers of pain, and many NGOs, on all continents, have come up with innovative concepts and support structures for the process. They provide essential care to those with nowhere else to turn. At a wider level, UNICEF, UNESCO and other organisations use the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a guiding framework, attempting to influence policies and governmental attitudes. Central to all of this, though, is the need to recognise what street children have been through, to work with their stories and listen to their past.
Listening was part of the rationale behind the campaign that I helped to establish in 2008 with fellow author Lauren Child, under the auspices of UNESCO. Called ‘My Life Is a Story’, it was designed to help street and excluded children to relate their personal histories by providing a platform for voices that had never been heard. The campaign is now over, but some powerful accounts were garnered. They revealed the almost unimaginable tortures that many street children go through and how vulnerable young lives can quickly tip into abomination.
One boy from Alexandria in Egypt described how he ran away from home when his new stepfather regularly chained him up in a cemetery overnight as a punishment. Another boy in Latvia described how he would occasionally visit his addict mother in a squat where she picked the fleas off herself and placed them in a see-through plastic bag. In Mexico, Jesús was sent to live with relatives, but got on the wrong bus aged 10 and ended up at the other end of the country, penniless and homeless. Girls in Senegal and Namibia, who had been employed as underage maids with wealthier families, told how they had been ruthlessly abused and worked to the bone before they’d run away to the streets.
These objects can become almost talismanic: a found bracelet, a lucky plastic spoon, or a crinkled photograph are all possible proof of a continued shared humanity
Beyond the intricacies of life’s calamities, what emerged through these stories was how vital is a sense of personal narrative to feeling human, all the more so when that narrative is acknowledged by others. The street children who contributed to the ‘My Life Is a Story’ campaign found it hard to believe that anyone could be interested in their lives, their voices or their opinions. More often than not, street children have been stripped of any sense of themselves, of their own uniqueness and significance. Like the boy with the battered headphones in Mali, they cling to any object that might yet give them a modicum of dignity or meaning in the eyes of others.
These objects can become almost talismanic: a found bracelet, a lucky plastic spoon, or a crinkled photograph are all possible proof of a continued shared humanity. When the connection to others is irredeemably lost, there is little for street children to hold onto. The common narrative they might have once shared with society simply splinters, and remembering the past becomes pointless. Substance abuse is just one way to obliterate the story they once inhabited.
A young boy in a government run orphanage in Ulan Bator. Having previously had a bad reputation they have now been cleaned up and well run. Photo by Richard Wainwright
As part of the ‘My Life Is a Story’ campaign I would try to raise awareness in British schools by disseminating the real-life stories of street children. I would begin my talks with a series of flashed-up images: a rough shelter on a station platform, a rubbish dump with foraging children, a boy cleaning a windscreen. It was interesting to see how children accustomed to comfort reacted. Many understood the notion of running away. Nor was it uncommon for pupils to say that they’d often thought about what it might be like to survive on the streets, to have to pull through alone, unaided. Most children were able to imagine losing everything and it terrified them — their fears having been triggered by seeing homeless people on the streets of their own cities.
When we touched on the specific challenges of survival, several pupils spontaneously announced that they would prefer to steal than to do menial or degrading jobs. Others said they would hang out at the backs of restaurants and plead for food. Many more said they would want, above all, to find a safe place in a park or shopping centre to sleep in. All quickly realised that being on the street would, at some point, put them in conflict with the police in one way or another.
Such discussions generally veered towards a kind of empathy with those who were dispossessed but, undeniably, huge gaps remained. We were still in the realm of theory. When all was said and done, street children were a different type of human for most British school kids. Their physical pains, their mental anguish, their diseases, their joys too, belonged to a universe that British children, as a rule, couldn’t really grasp.
Schoolchildren are not alone in that perception. To view street children as different, and separate, is perhaps an obvious way to live with the insupportable reality of their plight. Of course, it goes without saying that street children are no different from our children, from ourselves (how we once were), but to accept this truly, and to live with it, is hard. It undermines one of the most fundamental and commonly shared foundations of all human societies: that we care for, and protect, our children. Instead, the most vulnerable and youngest are often forced into the role of outcasts. The child becomes untouchable, a pariah — alone, assailable and exposed to the abjectness of the world.
On my return from Mongolia, I remember repeatedly feeling bewildered by my own young children. As I got them ready for bed, I found myself struggling to chase away insistent images of the Mongolian children in the heating vents. Yet I had to banish those very fresh memories in order just to be with my children. I became quickly frustrated by their complaints about life: ‘I don’t like my peas and mash touching’; ‘I’m not watching Robin Hood again’. These were the capricious banalities of children used to comfort, and I wanted to yell at them that they didn’t realise how lucky they were.
He began to construct a picture of her life; did she sleep in a station, he asked, or in an empty, derelict house with a sister, or a father?
However, my frustration hid many layers of unresolved emotion. I had hoped that my recent experiences would anaesthetise me to the pettiness of family life. Instead, I felt a real bleakness, and its slow bitterness released itself into my parenting. Mongolia had made me doubly aware how precious childhood was but, equally, I was repulsed by my own children’s innocence. Their cleanliness, abundant food and clothing felt like an obscenity. On more than one occasion, I had to pull the car over, the engine running, and stare into space for a few seconds while the children bickered behind about their car seats touching each other, their feet kicking me in the back. A silent rage had overcome me and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
On a recent trip to Istanbul, alone with my 10-year-old son, we watched a street girl, no older than eight braving the bitter winds coming in off the Bosphorus in a threadbare T-shirt as she desperately tried to repair her broken accordion. Each time she mended it, it would play for a few minutes before breaking again. My son was entranced by the oversized men’s shoes she wore and by her matted, feral hair. I could see him looking around at the few tourists in a bid to identify her neglectful parents. Their absence was totally unnatural and foreign to him. He wanted to be reassured that she wasn’t alone in the city, without a safety net.
The girl’s shoes and accordion provided an opening onto her world, an aperture through which we could discuss her predicament. We talked about how she might have acquired her accordion and how she might have learnt to play. Who did her shoes belong to? I’m not sure I got the conversation right and, when my son didn’t understand, I found myself getting blunt (and guilty, too, aware, at the back of my mind, that a parent’s role is also to protect a child from the asperities of life).
An expatriate friend in Eastern Europe told me she was once bold enough to buy hamburgers for three street boys in order to show her own offspring how charmed their life was. She’d just handed over the hamburgers when another band of vagrant children appeared out of nowhere, each demanding a burger of their own. My friend ended up buying at least 10 burgers with a string of children’s dirty faces squashed up against the window of the fast-food outlet, watching her every move. Things had been brought to a violent halt when a customer prevented her from reaching the counter again. A row ensued in which the customer told her he couldn’t bear to be put off his food by the sight of vermin any longer. It was an episode my friend’s children were unlikely to forget.
In Istanbul, it was only when we were accosted by a Syrian family begging for money that my son became fully engaged with the subject of homelessness and precarious living. Here was a family who had fled the violence of civil war. He had heard about the Syrian conflict on television, and war was a feature of books he had read and films he had seen. He referred back to the girl with the accordion. Maybe, he thought, she had come from Syria? He began to construct a picture of her life, imagining her trudging through the mountains and the cold to reach Istanbul. Did she sleep in a station, he asked, or in an empty, derelict house with a sister, or a father? What did she think about as she played the accordion?
I could see my son battling with concepts that were far from his life and that directly challenged many of his beliefs. The next day, we looked for the girl with the accordion. She had disappeared. But the orange cloth she had used to collect money was still on the pavement, and people were walking round it. Perhaps they were trying to work out where it had come from? An absence and a puzzling presence. And no resolution for my son.
Street children are the product of many compounded flaws: our continued failure to halt endemic violence against women and children, our incapacity to stem extreme poverty, our inability to resolve conflicts, or even to deal equitably with natural disasters. Locking them up, or repressing them, won’t resolve any of these global issues. It won’t remove the fear and guilt abandoned children inspire in us either.
It is easy to say that the young lives of untamed children and adolescents have nothing to do with us, or that they live in a dimension we cannot understand. And yet each street child I have met has had a unique story, and a richness of experience that holds lessons for all. Maybe that is why it pains me all the more that street children are ignored, barely acknowledged. They’re forced to exist in a world parallel to ours, and, out there, in their other world, in their bus stations and gutters, in the filth and vileness of their refuse dumps, they survive as best they can, with the same emotions we all share. Our greatest insult to them is to remove their humanity even further by not recognising a part of ourselves in them. We diminish ourselves by refusing to look them in the eye.
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is a novelist and writer. From 2008 to 2010, he helped run the My Life Is a Story campaign for UNESCO to raise awareness about street children. He edited Outsiders (2013), a collection by Italian authors.
Street children is a term for children experiencing poverty, homelessness or both, who are living on the streets of a city, town, or village. Homeless youth are often called street kids or street youth; the definition of street children is contested, but many practitioners and policymakers use UNICEF’s concept of boys and girls, aged under 18 years, for whom "the street" (including unoccupied dwellings and wasteland) has become home and/or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised.
Street people are sometimes called gamines, a term that is also used for Colombian street children of either sex.
Some street children, notably in more developed nations, are part of a subcategory called thrownaway children who are children that have been forced to leave home. Thrown-away children are more likely to come from single-parent homes. Street children are often subject to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or, in extreme cases, murder by "clean-up squads" that have been hired by local businesses or police.
Street children is used as a catch-all term, but describes children in a wide variety of circumstances and with a wide variety of characteristics. Policymakers and service providers struggle to describe and assist such a sub-population. Individual boys and girls of all ages are found living and working in public spaces, and are visible in the great majority of the world’s urban centers.
Statistics and distribution
Street children can be found in a large majority of the world's cities, with the phenomenon more prevalent in densely populated urban hubs of developing or economically unstable regions, such as countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia.
According to a report from the Consortium for Street Children, a United Kingdom-based consortium of related non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UNICEF estimated that 100 million children were growing up on urban streets around the world. Fourteen years later, in 2002, UNICEF similarly reported, "The latest estimates put the numbers of these children as high as one hundred million". More recently the organization added, "The exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world. It is likely that the numbers are increasing." The one hundred million figure is still commonly cited for street children, but has no basis in fact. Similarly, it is debatable whether numbers of street children are growing globally, or whether it is the awareness of street children within societies that has grown.
The phenomenon of street children has been documented as far back as 1848. Alan Ball, in the introduction to his book on the history of abandoned children, And Now My Soul Is Hardened: Abandoned Children in Soviet Russia, 1918–1930, states:
Orphaned and abandoned children have been a source of misery from earliest times. They apparently accounted for most of the boy prostitutes in Augustan Rome and, a few centuries later, moved a church council of 442 in southern Gaul to declare: "Concerning abandoned children: there is general complaint that they are nowadays exposed more to dogs than to kindness." In Tsarist Russia, seventeenth-century sources described destitute youths roaming the streets, and the phenomenon survived every attempt at eradication thereafter. 
In 1848, Lord Ashley referred to more than 30,000 "naked, filthy, roaming lawless, and deserted children" in and around London, UK. By 1922, there were at least seven million homeless children in Russia due to the devastation from World War I and the Russian Civil War. Abandoned children formed gangs, created their own argot, and engaged in petty theft and prostitution.
The causes of this phenomenon are varied, but are often related to domestic, economic, or social disruption including, but not limited to: poverty; breakdown of homes and/or families; political unrest; acculturation; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; domestic violence; lured away by pimps, Internet predators, or begging syndicates; mental health problems; substance abuse; and sexual orientation or gender identity issues. Children may end up on the streets due to cultural factors. For example, some children in parts of Congo and Uganda are made to leave their family; because, they are suspected to be witches who bring bad luck upon their family. In Afghanistan, young girls who perform "honor crimes" that shame their family and/or cultural practices—like adultery (which may include rape or sexual abuse) or who refuse an arranged marriage—may be forced to leave their homes.
Children may also end up on the streets due to religious factors. For example, some children in the far-northern parts of Nigeria (referred to as the almajiris) are forced to leave their homes to indenture them under a mallam (Islamic religious teacher), for them to understand the teachings of Islam.
See also: The Forgotten Children of Congo
UNICEF works with CARITAS and other non-governmental organizations in Egypt to address street children. The increase in the number of NGOs targeting the issue has broadened the scale of intervention to reach a far greater number of street children and their families.
There are an estimated 250,000 street children in Kenya and over 60,000 in the capital Nairobi. Rapid and unsustainable urbanization in the post-colonial period, which led to entrenched urban poverty in cities such as Nairobi, Kisumu, and Mombasa is an underlying cause of child homelessness. Rural-urban migration broke up extended families which had previously acted as a support network, taking care of children in cases of abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that glue sniffing is at the core of "street culture" in Nairobi, and that the majority of street children in the city are habitual solvent users. Research conducted by Cottrell-Boyce for the African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies found that glue sniffing amongst Kenyan street children was primarily functional – dulling the senses against the hardship of life on the street – but it also provided a link to the support structure of the ‘street family’ as a potent symbol of shared experience.
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Sierra Leone was considered to be the poorest nation in the world, according to the UN World Poverty Index 2008. Whilst the current picture is more optimistic – World Bank projections for 2013/14 ranked Sierra Leone as having the second fastest-growing economy in the world – a prevalent lack of child rights and extreme poverty remain widespread. There are close to 50,000 children relying upon the streets for their survival, a portion of them living full-time on the streets. There are also an estimated 300,000 children in Sierra Leone without access to education. Often neglected rural areas – of which there are many – offer little or no opportunity for children to break from the existing cycle of poverty.
Main article: Street children in Bangladesh
No recent statistics of street children in Bangladesh is available. UNICEF puts the number above 670,000 referring to a study conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, "Estimation of the Size of Street Children and their Projection for Major Urban Areas of Bangladesh, 2005". About 36% of these children are in the capital city Dhaka according to the same study. Though Bangladesh improved the Human Capital Index over the decades, (HDI is 0.558 according to 2014 HDR of UNDP and Bangladesh at 142 among 187 countries and territories), these children still represent the absolute lowest level in the social hierarchy. The same study projected the number of street children to be 1.14m in year 2014.
Main article: Street children in India
India has an estimated one million or more street children in each of the following cities: New Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. When considering India as a whole, there are over eleven million children who earn their living off the streets in cities and rural areas. It is more common for street children to be male and the average age is fourteen. Although adolescent girls are more protected by families than boys are, when girls do break the bonds they are often worse off than boys are, as they are lured into prostitution. The Republic of India is the seventh-largest and second-most populated country in the world. Due to the acceleration in economic growth, an economic rift has appeared, with just over thirty-two per cent of the population living below the poverty line. Owing to unemployment, increasing rural-urban migration, the attraction of city life, and a lack of political will, India has developed one of the largest child labor forces in the world.
According to a 2007 study, there were over 170,000 street children living in Indonesia. In 2000, about 1,600 children were living on the streets of Yogyakarta. Approximately five hundred of these children were girls from the ages of four–sixteen years of age. Many children began living on the streets after the 1997 financial crisis in Indonesia. Girls living on the street face more difficulties than boys living on the street in Indonesia. Girls on the street are often abused by the street boys because of the patriarchal nature of the culture. "They abuse girls, refuse to acknowledge them as street children but liken them to prostitutes". Many girls become dependent on boyfriends; they receive material support in exchange for sex.
The street children in Indonesia are seen as a public nuisance. "They are detained, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, their means of livelihood (guitars for busking, goods for sale) confiscated, and some have been shot attempting to flee the police".
There are between 60,000 and 200,000 street children in Iran (2016).
The number of street children in Pakistan is estimated to be between 1.2 million and 1.5 million, Although, this number remains anecdotal since it was cited over ten years ago. There has been no head-count or a mapping study of street children in Pakistan except couple of large metropolitan cities such as Karachi and Lahore. These studies were also geographically and scope-wise limited. These studies show that the numbers may be much higher now after the increasing poverty, people's displacement after the natural disasters and war on terrorism in Pakistan. Most recently, Social Welfare Department of Sindh has conducted a mapping study of street children in all of Karachi only. Past efforts have been initiated by UNICEF and other NGOs to assist children in need through various programs and rehabilitation centers; however, the situation remains as a prominent socio-economic issue in Pakistan during the 21st century.
Main article: Street children in the Philippines
According to the 1998 report titled "Situation of the Youth in the Philippines", there are about 1.5 million street children in the Philippines, 70% of which are boys. Street children as young as ten years old can be imprisoned alongside adults under the country's Vagrancy Act; in past cases, physical and sexual abuse have occurred as a result of this legislation.
According to The Street Educators’ Club, the number of street children in Vietnam has shrunk from 21,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2007. The number dropped from 1,507 to 113 in Hanoi and from 8,507 to 794 in Ho Chi Minh City. There are currently almost four hundred humanitarian organizations and international non-governmental organizations providing help to about 15,000 Vietnamese children.
See also: Street children in Eastern Europe
Greece’s street child activity is heavily connected with human trafficking, especially with immigrants from Albania. In 2003, street children located in state-run facilities had disappeared. The disappearance is suspected to be linked to human trafficking. The numbers have decreased in recent years, and Greece has taken "legislative action to criminalize human trafficking and related crimes", though Amnesty International reports that the problem still exists, and there is a failure of government protection and justice of trafficked children.
Begging and other street activities have been outlawed in Greece since 2003, but the recent unemployment hike has increased levels of these actions.
There are few programs for displaced children in Greece, which created a street child problem in the early 2000s. Giving foster parents to special needs children is not something the Greek government has done, leading to higher numbers of physically or mentally disabled street children. There are also deterrents for working and poor parents in Greece making them more willing to force their children to the streets. For example, orphans are given financial benefits, but if they live in state-run facilities they cannot receive these benefits. For working parents to get government subsidies, they often have to have more than one child.
Further information: Decree 770 and Romanian orphans
The phenomenon of street children in Romania must be understood within the local historical context. In 1966, in communist Romania, ruler Nicolae Ceauşescuoutlawed contraception and abortion, enacting an aggressive natalist policy, in an effort to increase the population. As families were not able to cope, thousands of unwanted children were placed in state orphanages where they faced terrible conditions. Under communism, the struggle of families was made worse in the 1980s, under the 1980s austerity policy in Romania, when living standards dropped dramatically, and food was rationed; and the fall of communism in December 1989 initially meant economic and social insecurity. Under such conditions, in the 1990s, many children moved onto the streets, with some being from the orphanages, while others being runaways from impoverished families. During the transition period from communism to market economy in the 1990s, social issues such as those of these children were low on the government's agenda. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century things were improving. A 2000 report from the Council of Europe estimated that there were approximately 1,000 street children in the city of Bucharest. The prevalence of street children has led to a burgeoning sex tourism business in Romania; although, efforts have been made to decrease the number of street children in the country. The 2001 documentary film Children Underground documents the plight of Romanian street children, in particular their struggles with malnutrition, sexual exploitation, and substance abuse. In the 1990s, street children were often seen begging, inhaling 'aurolac' from sniffing bags, and roaming around the Bucharest Metro. In the 21st century, the numbers of children living permanently in the streets dropped significantly, although more children worked on streets all day, but returned at home to their parents at night. By 2004, it was estimated that less than 500 children lived permanently in the streets in Bucharest, while less than 1,500 worked in the streets during the day, returning home to their families in the evening. By 2014, the street children of the 1990s were adults, and many were reported to be living 'underground' in the tunnels and sewers beneath the streets of Bucharest, with some having their own children.
In 2001, it was estimated that Russia had about one million street children, and one in four crimes involved underage individuals. Officially, the number of children without supervision is more than 700,000.
According to UNICEF, there were 64,000 homeless street children brought to hospitals by various governmental services (e.g. police) in 2005. In 2008, the number was 60,000.
Overall number of Russian children that lost their parents' support by the end of 2011 was 654,355. This number includes 522,802 kids being on foster gage or adopted, and 105,688 kids in orphanages.
In 2012, unaccompanied male minors from Morocco started claiming asylum in Sweden. In 2014, 384 claimed asylum. Knowing that their chances of receiving refugee status was slim, they frequently ran away from the refugee housing to live on the streets.
In 2016, of the estimated 800 street children in Sweden, Morocco is the most prevalent country of origin. In 2016, the governments of Sweden and Morocco signed a treaty to facilitate their repatriation to Morocco. Efforts by authorities to aid the youth were declined by the youth who preferred living on the street and supporting themselves by crime. Morocco was initially reluctant to accept the repatriates, but as they could be identified using the Moroccan fingerprint database, repatriation could take place once Moroccan citizenship had been proven. Of the 77 males Morocco accepted, 65 had stated a false identity when claiming asylum to Sweden.
Of Turkey's 30,891 street children, 30,109 live in İstanbul, research conducted by the Turkish Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency (BİHB) has shown. Of the street children, 20 were identified in Ankara, and Turkey's third-largest city, İzmir, had none. Kocaeli province was reported to have 687 street children while Eskişehir has 47. The research also revealed that 41,000 children are forced to beg on the streets, more than half of whom are found in İstanbul. Other cities with high figures include Ankara (6,700), Diyarbakır (3,300), Mersin (637) and Van (640).
Based on unofficial estimates, 88,000 children in Turkey live on the streets, and the country has the fourth-highest rate of underage substance abuse in the world. 4 percent of all children in Turkey are subject to sexual abuse, with 70 percent of the victims being younger than 10. Contrary to popular belief, boys are subject to sexual abuse as frequently as girls. In reported cases of children subject to commercial sexual exploitation, 77 percent of the children came from broken homes. Twenty-three percent lived with their parents, but in those homes domestic violence was common. The biggest risk faced by children who run away and live on the street is sexual exploitation. Children kidnapped from southeastern provinces are forced into prostitution here. Today, it is impossible to say for certain how many children in Turkey are being subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, but many say official information is off by at least 85 percent.
See also: Street children in Latin America
The number of homeless children in the US grew from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. The United States defines homelessness per McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act.[definition needed]The number of homeless children reached record highs in 2011, 2012, and 2013 at about three times their number in 1983. An "estimated two million [youth] run away from or are forced out of their homes each year" in the United States. The difference in these numbers can be attributed to the temporary nature of street children in the United States, unlike the more permanent state in developing countries.
Street children in the United States tend to stay in the state, 83% do not leave their state of origin. If they leave, street children are likely to end up in large cities, notably New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Street children are predominantly Caucasian and female in the United States, and 42% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
The United States government has been making efforts since the late 1970s to accommodate this section of the population. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 made funding available for shelters and funded the National Runaway Switchboard. Other efforts include the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. There has also been a decline of arrest rates in street youth, dropping in 30,000 arrests from 1998 to 2007. Instead, the authorities are referring homeless youth to state-run social service agencies.
Homeless College Youth
The homeless college youth accounts for over one million of the young homeless population. According to the Free Application Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, in 2013, over 58,000 students identified as homeless on their application. "The federal government defines these unaccompanied homeless youth (UHY) as individuals who do not have “fixed, regular and adequate” housing and who are “not in the physical custody of a parent or adult.” The McKinney Vento Act is considered the key piece of federal legislation pertaining to educational support for homeless children and teens. The causes of homelessness varies from student to student. There are two types of homeless college students: 1. students that are homeless upon entering college and 2. students who become homeless during college. For the youth that become homeless upon entering college, this situation represents the students that are having trouble sustaining housing due to job loss of their parent or guardian, the lack of a parent or guardian or because youth has been asked to leave the home or decided to runaway. The reasons for a college youth to become homeless while attending college are as follows: unable to sustain the financial expenses for housing and food. Second, by having the financial support given by family revoked. Fortunately, there are programs available at state colleges and universities that provide students with the necessary resources to obtain financial and housing stability and sustainability. There are also organizations such as the National Association For The Education Of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) that advocate for a higher education so the children and youth can fulfil their dreams.
As of 2006, around 22,000 Australian youth were listed as homeless. The majority of homeless youth are located in the State of New South Wales. Youth homelessness has been subject to a number of independent studies, some calling for the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct an inquiry on the matter.
See also: Street children in Latin America
According to some estimates made in 1982 by UNICEF, there were forty million street children in Latin America, most of whom work on the streets, but they do not necessarily live on the streets. A majority of the street children in Latin America are males between the ages of 10 and 14. There are two categories of street children in Latin America: home-based and street-based. Home-based children have homes and families to return to, while street-based children do not. A majority of street children in Latin America are home-based.
The Brazilian government estimates that the number of children and adolescents in 2012 who work or sleep on the streets were approximately 23,973, based on results from the national census mandated by the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency (SDH) and the Institute for Sustainable Development (Idesp).
Government and non-government responses
Responses by governments
While some governments have implemented programs to deal with street children, the general solution involves placing the children into orphanages, juvenile homes, or correctional institutions. Efforts have been made by various governments to support or partner with non-government organizations. In Colombia, the government has tried to implement programs to put these children in state-run homes, but efforts have largely failed, and street children have become a victim group of social cleansing by the National Police; because, they are assumed to be drug users and criminals. In Australia, the primary response to homelessness is the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). The program is limited in its effectiveness. An estimated one in two young people who seek a bed from SAAP is turned away because services are full.
Public approaches to street children
There are four categories of how societies deal with street children: Correctional model, Rehabilitative model, Outreach strategies, and Preventive approach.
- The Correctional model is primarily used by governments and the police. They view children as a public nuisance and risk to security of the general public. The objective of this model would be to protect the public and help keep the kids away from a life of crime. The methods this model uses to keep the children away from the life of crime are the juvenile justice system and specific institutions.
- The Rehabilitative model is supported by churches and NGOs. The view of this model is that street children are damaged and in need of help. The objective of this model is to rehabilitate children into mainstream society. The methods used to keep children from going back to the streets are education, drug detoxification programs, and providing children with a safe family-like environment.
- The Outreach strategy is supported by street teachers, NGOs, and church organizations. This strategy views street children as oppressed individuals in need of support from their communities. The objective of the Outreach strategy is to empower the street children by providing outreach education and training to support children.
- The Preventive approach is supported by NGOs, the coalition of street children, and lobbying governments. They view street children’s poor circumstances from negative social and economic forces. In order to help street children, this approach focuses on the problems that cause children to leave their homes for the street by targeting parents’ unemployment, poor housing campaign for children’s rights.
Non-government organizations employ a wide variety of strategies to address the needs and rights of street children. One example of NGO effort is "The Street Children‘s Day", launched by Jugend Eine Welt on 31 January 2009 to highlight the situation of street children. The "Street Children's Day" has been commemorated every year since its inception in 2009.
Street children differ in age, gender, ethnicity, social class, and these children have had different experiences throughout their lifetimes. UNICEF differentiates between the different types of children living on the street in three different categories: candidates for the street (street children who work and hang out on the streets), children on the streets (children who work on the street but have a home to go to at night), and children of the street (children who live on the street without family support).
Horatio Alger's book, Tattered Tom; or, The Story of a Street Arab (1871), is an early example of the appearance of street children in literature. The book follows the tale of a homeless girl who lives by her wits on the streets of New York, US. Other examples from popular fiction include Kim, from Kipling's novel of the same name, who is a street child in colonial India. Gavroche, in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Fagin's crew of child pickpockets in Oliver Twist, a similar group of child thieves in Funke's The Thief Lord, and Sherlock Holmes' "Baker Street Irregulars" are other notable examples of the presence of street children in popular works of literature.
During the mid-1970s in Australia, a number of youth refuges were established. These refuges were founded by local youth workers, providing crisis accommodation, soon began getting funding from the Australian government. In New South Wales, these early refuges include Caretakers Cottage, Young People's Refuge, Taldemunde among others. Within years of their founding, these refuges began receiving funding from the Department of Family and Community Services.
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