The usual image is of young homeless people who live and
work on the streets. But it is better to think of street
children in terms of their relationship to the street. Some
come from street families. Others live mainly on the street
but may go back to the family home in the evenings or make
sporadic visits. Yet others sleep in night shelters. A proportion
endure periods in jail or institutions or spend their days
working in open air markets. Most are working children.
All are individuals first with their own unique, complex
time to smile: it's party time for
these street girls at an NGO project
in Kolkata, India.
Davies / Exile
knows for sure. Estimates differ widely – anywhere from
30 to 170 million. Their mobility and the fact that they move in and
out of street living make them difficult to count. They are not included
in surveys and censuses. There are no global statistics and the most
reliable national ones come from agencies on the ground.
circumstances such as warfare, deteriorating economies and natural
disasters can increase their numbers. Thus, prior to the 1991
Gulf War there were no reported street children in Iraq; with the ongoing
conflict, UNICEF is alarmed by the growing numbers of orphans on the
a minority have no contact with their family. In Brazil about 90% have
either a home life or occasional contact with their family.
and social vulnerability put pressure on families and drive children
on to the streets. In Kingston, Jamaica, over 90% of street children
came from single mother families.
dysfunction, often fuelled by poverty, also pushes children out.
In the United States poverty is not the main factor – a majority
of the estimated 750,000 to 1 million street children have fled physical
or sexual abuse.
there are far fewer girls than boys, the estimates (that girls make up
between 3% and 30 % of the street child population)
so wide as to be almost meaningless. Girls are more vulnerable to violence
(including sexual attacks) on the street, although this is a problem
for boys, too. Many get lured into brothels.
where the reported sexual exploitation of girls is at its highest
are India, the US, Thailand, Taiwan, Brazil and the Philippines.
Eastern Europe has also seen an explosion in child sexual exploitation.2
estimates that over 2 million children, mainly girls, are exploited
through prostitution and pornography. 1.2 million girls and boys
are trafficked each year – many to join the sex trade.3
and order officials and self-styled vigilantes both attempt to ‘clean the street’ of
these children in many parts of the world. In Latin America the problem
is particularly acute with the
worst offenders being Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras. An average
of three street children are killed every day in the state of Rio de
Janeiro. In Cairo, street children are routinely rounded up and beaten
by the police, their heads are shaven and then they are transferred to
crowded detention centres.
rates of drug use and involvement in petty crime make them vulnerable
to violence from others like them. The main reason for gang membership
more prone to diseases associated with risky sexual activity and/or drug
use. In Toronto 50% of street children surveyed had
In Cambodia, 40% of all new HIV infections are in street working children.6
In Guatemala 53% had sexually transmitted diseases.
Guatemalan study also found 92% of the children had lice and 88%
had contracted upper respiratory infections due to exposure. Skin
were also common.7
conducted in Nepal and Guatemala showed that urban street children
were in better health than children in stable homes in farming villages:
an indicator of the depths of rural poverty in these countries rather
than a recommendation for life on the street.5
your medicine: a Filipino father tends to his young
daughter. Traffic fumes cause high rates of respiratory
disease. Photo: Fran
Deepening poverty and the devastation caused by AIDS in many African
countries has led to traditional social supports disintegrating,
pushing children on to the streets:
The average age of street children is 13 years. 42,505 children
were arrested in 2001; 10,958 were charged with being ‘vulnerable
With poverty rates as high as 90% among the general population, there
are 70,000 street children in Northern Sudan, 86% of them boys.
The vast majority are employed.
An estimated 50,000 are trafficked to nearby countries where they
often end up selling goods on the street.
Republic of Congo
NGO estimates range from 12,000 to 25,000; the Ministry of Social
affairs says the number is closer to 40,000.
The war-torn 1980s and 1990s caused large increases in the numbers
of street children; estimates around 150,000.
250,000 estimated. (Half of the general population of the country
is under 18.)
45% of street children say they have been beaten on the street.
million children work in the Asia Pacific area – 104
million of them in hazardous forms of child labour. Asia has
traditionally had high numbers of children on the streets:
Over 445,000; 75% of them in Dhaka. The numbers of boys and girls
are almost evenly split.
11 million; Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta each have over 100,000.
300,000, of whom half also sleep on the streets.
Estimates range from 10,000 to 30,000; less than 25% of all Burmese
children complete primary schooling.
In 1995, there were 50,000. In 2001, 78% of street children had reportedly
left home because of poverty.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
wary of post-war child trafficking in Iraq’,
UNICEF press release, 13 June 2003.
2 ‘UNICEF calls for eradication
of commercial sexual exploitation of children’, UNICEF press
release, 12 December 2001.
3 ‘All children deserve protection
from exploitation and abuse’, UNICEF, 2004.
4 Strategies to combat
homelessness, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, Nairobi,
5 BBC News, ‘Street children surprisingly healthy’, 13
April 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1920570.stm
Marot, Director FRIENDS in consultation with Cambodian NGOs, reported
by Consortium for Street Children, 2003.
7 Nancy Leigh Tierney, Robbed
of Humanity: Lives of Guatemalan Street Children, Pangaea, Saint Paul,
8 Facts from the Consortium for Street Children’s Civil
Society Forums on Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Street Children:
North Africa and the Middle East, 3-6 March 2004, Cairo, (with Hope
Village Society); Francophone Africa, 2-5 June 2004, Senegal, (with
Street Child Africa and Avenir de L’Enfant); Anglophone West
Africa, 21-24 October 2003, Accra, (with Street Child Africa and Catholic
Action for Street Children) and East and Southern Africa, 11-13 February
2002, Nairobi, (with Street Child Africa and Undugu Society of Kenya).
Reporting by Hope Village society with members of the Egyptian network
for Street Children (Egypt); Peace and Development Volunteer with Sabah
and partners (Sudan); Croix Rouge and partners (Benin); OPDE Congo
and partners (DR Congo); Catholic Action for Street Children (Ghana);
Child Protection Alliance and partners (Gambia); Bayti and partners
(Morocco); Beatrice Epaye, Network for Street Children (Central African
Republic); University of Cocody (Côte d’Ivoire); Undugu
Society (Kenya); UNICEF (Ethiopia).
9 Consortium for Street Children’s
Civil Society Forums: South Asia, 12-14 December 2001, Colombo (with
ChildHope and PEACE) and East and South East Asia, 12-14 March 2003,
Bangkok. Reporting by KKSP Foundation (citing ILO figures); Aparajeyo
(Bangladesh); Asha Rane (India); Save the Children UK China Programme
(China); World Vision Myanmar (Burma); Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, Vietnam
and partners (Vietnam).