They deserve a way out of ‘Home Street Home’
There are an estimated 150 million street children across the world today1. They live in poverty, on the edge of society and lack the very basics of life:
- Someone to take care of them
How do children become street children?
The term street children can be used to mean:
- children who earn their living on the street – their only way of getting money
- children who use the streets as a refuge in the day, then return ‘home’ at night
- children who live their entire lives and sleep on the street
There are many reasons for their way of life, including:
- Parental bereavement
- War and natural disasters
- Family breakdown
- Violence and abuse at home
Before they get to live on the streets, most street children have already suffered. Becoming a street child is not a positive choice, it is often their only choice.
How do street children live?
With no education or money street children survive, for example, by:
- Providing shoe shines
- Cleaning cars
- Selling whatever they can find
while they scavenge and steal for food. If they are living on the streets at night finding somewhere safe to sleep is difficult and often street children will form groups for some kind of safety. Children sleep on the streets ‘with one eye open’ for danger.
Street children are open to all forms of abuse and exploitation.
They are usually wary of adults, authority and institutions.
The extremes of how street children can be treated
Street children are often treated as criminals, discriminated against and looked down on by society – but it can get much worse than that.
Brazil has a long history of street children. Just 10 years ago, on 23 July 1993, a group of street children were on the steps of the Candelaria Church in Rio de Janeiro, a place where they often slept at night. They were shot at by police. Eight of them died. All the men involved were sent for trial – two of them were convicted.
Street children are seen by some as a ‘problem’ and a ‘nuisance’. This was an extreme act to get rid of the problem, but not the first or the last time these measures have been used. The actions at the Candelaria Church were more public, resulting in international condemnation. An annual vigil is held at the church each year – ‘Candelaria, Never Again’.
Brutality and state violence is an ongoing threat for many street children.
In Latin America the life of a street child can be as short as four years.2
This start of this video shows footage from the news report into the Candelaria massacre – be warned if you choose to watch it, that it shows graphic footage of children lying dead on the streets.) The video also states that 712 street children were murdered on the streets of Rio in one year.
UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child3 is a legally binding international instrument which sets out the basic human rights that children everywhere have:
- The right to survival
- The right to develop to the fullest
- The right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation
- The right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.
Street children struggle with all of these – it may be their legal right, but it certainly isn’t their everyday life.
In 2012 the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) produced a report – ‘Protection and promotion of the rights of children working and/or living on the streets‘4. It attracted more co-sponsors than almost any other resolution since the creation of the Human Rights Council in 2006.
How specialist charities are helping street children
Education can provide street children with a way out – education is something that can never be taken away from you – and street children have already lost so much or had it taken away from them.
Providing them with an education in the accepted sense is not always easy. Most will have had no formal education, and probably no training in their lives. Many programmes start with skills training using music, dance, sports and art – and when the children are ready they can progress to more formal education. They will then be able to earn their own living and fulfil their dreams.
Streetkids international uses a number of toolkits to help older children learn about business – so they can begin to earn their own living and work their way out of poverty. By ‘business’ they mean small-scale income-generating activities that are realistic first steps for many street youth.
Training street workers is another starting point. Street children are wary of adults and it can take time for a street worker to befriend them and show them how they can get away from the streets. The streets may be the only life they have ever known – some children are born on the streets. The streets may be the only place they have friends – other street children. It can take time to show them that there is a life other than the streets, a better life.
Some organisations provide shelters and schools for children who have been rescued from the streets.
A variety of approaches are taken by organisations working with street children, and all of them take into account the country and circumstances, such as war, economic pressures and natural disasters.
What all of them do is provide local help to the children through their own staff, partners and youth workers who know and understand the area.
Help that can transform the lives of street children.
Help that can give them back their self-confidence and provide them with hope for the future.
Help that can take them off the streets.
How you can help street children
Although there may be no street children on the street where you live, you can help to give them a chance to dream and escape from their situation. For instance you can:
Sign the online appeal for the UN to recognise the International Day for Street Children, which started in 2011 and is on 12 April each year. This will help to raise the profile of street children and give them more of a voice across the world. You can also join them on Facebook – /streetchildrenday.
Organise an event for the next International Day for Street Children – you can find some ideas on the Street Children Day website.
Buy ‘Nobody Ever Listened to Me’ – a book written by David Maidment which is a collection of essays and stories about what it is like to be a street child. All the profits and royalties from the book are donated to the Consortium for Streetchildren and other participating bodies. You can find it, for instance, on Amazon.
Donate to a charity dedicated to street children5 – there are many out there and I have listed some under References at the end of this blog, or to an international charity with special groups working with street children, such as UNICEF. If you think it is odd that I suggest you donate to a charity other than NDF, consider the NDF vision:
At NDF, we believe in a world where all children have an equal chance to grow up and develop into productive, caring citizens of the world.
I think supporting specialist charities and organisations to help street children falls within that vision – one charity cannot do it all on their own.
Here are some examples of how charities are helping street children:
Ejide in Rwanda now has a dream, thanks to UNICEF – he will tell you about it in this video.
In India it is estimated that a child arrives at a railway station every 5 minutes – alone, hungry and vulnerable. The Railway Children Charity has been setting up ‘child friendly railway stations since 2008. Rescue workers refer children to a ‘child protection booth’ on, or near, railway platforms, which are usually staffed by a volunteer or railway protection force officer. From here, children who have just arrived are referred to a drop-in centre where they are given food, clean clothes and medical care and can access longer-term help.
We are approaching the festive season
Whatever it means to you in terms of your religion or culture, the festive season for many of us means time with friends and family, good food and a time to be thankful for what we have.
For street children the festive season remains a time of survival.
- 1 UNESCO – Street Children
- 2 Is street life dangerous
- 3 UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child
- 4 UN OHCHR report on ‘Protection and promotion of the rights of children working and/or living on the streets’
- 5 Some of the charities supporting street children: