Children living and/or working on the streets are among the most neglected and overlooked individuals in society. Unfortunately, although there is estimated to be up to 150 million street children around the world1, there is a huge lack of awareness and support for these children. These children face severe trials and tribulations on the daily basis, usually on their own without support.
There are many ways by which a child can end up living on the streets. Some children are actually born onto the streets through pregnancies of street youth. There are others who end up moving to the streets during childhood or adolescence due to different causes. Many end up on the street due to lack of societal support for their parents. Their families are usually victims of discrimination and among the lower social and economic classes in society. If these families are not provided economic support or child care assistance this can lead to the abandonment or departure of children from the home to the street. Or it can lead to the child beginning to earn an income on the street. Other causes also include war, internal displacement, forced marriages (leading to child departing from the home), natural disasters, familial abuse and so on.
Once a child begins life on the street there are countless challenges they may face. Children often face discrimination and further abuse due to the negative stereotypes associated with street children. Often children may be seen as rebellious and become targeted by criminal groups (eg. gangs) to join them. Or they could be exploited and used by others to fulfill questionable tasks. It is quite common for the children to have physical and mental health issues simply due to the stress and health risks associated with living on the street. Children on the street are also at much higher risk for substance abuse, contracting HIV/AIDS, youth pregnancy, random acts of violence, suicidal thoughts and more. There is also an increased risk of becoming victims of torture and inhuman treatment. In many nations, girls are at extremely high risk of getting involved in sex trafficking. For example, in the Ukraine, 65 per cent of street girls are involved sexual interactions to make an income2.
The risks listed above are only some of the challenges which a child may face on the streets. Once engaged in these lives it often becomes extremely difficult for a child to be able to escape or return back to a normal life. Especially due to the limited support and programs working to aid these children.
A study done by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asked children living and/or working on the streets, their opinions and perspective on their situations. The majority of children felt rejected by the public. Their main source of support was each other (i.e. other street children) and organizations which come into contact with them, but very little from public/governmental services. When asked what would help them, majority of children simply wanted someone who would identify with them, approve of them and help guide them. It is extremely disheartening to know that out of all the trials and challenges being face by these children, the sole thing the majority want is to have someone who will listen to them and accept them without judgement. This goes to show how severely neglected these children are and how essential it is for our societies to provide them the attention they deserve.
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2017). http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/fight-against-discrimination/education-of-children-in-need/street-children/
- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2012). “Protection and promotion of the rights of children working and/or living on the street.” Available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Children/Study/Pages/childrenonthestreet.aspx