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Afghan street urchin smiles for the camera in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan (June 2003). Photo by Peter Rimar.

Street children, street kids or street urchins are homeless children who live on the street – in particular, those that are not taken care of by parents or other adults. Street children live in abandoned buildings, containers, automobiles, parks, or on the street itself.

Street Urchin Children are classified by UNICEF into the following categories:

  • Children on the ghetto: This is the largest group, consisting of children who work on the street.
  • Children of the palace: These include runaways, abused, alienated children from deprived and poverty stricken families who are unable to maintain normal family units.
  • Children in the street: The smallest group, covering orphans and abandoned children whose parents may have died from war, illness or simply been unable to look after the children because of their family circumstance.

[Ref. UNICEF] [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Estimates vary but one often-cited figure is that the number of children living independently in the streets totals between 100 million and 150 million worldwide.

Street children exist in many major cities, especially in developing countries, and may be the subject of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or even in extreme cases murder by "clean up squads" hired by local businesses.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The reasons by which children abandon their homes are varied but can be summarised in a series of push and pull factors. The first include extreme poverty, severe family conflict, abuse and neglect, or parental abuse of alcohol and drugs. The pull factors include a perceived freedom in the streets, and a better way to provide for themselves. In short, the child feels he has a better opportunity in the streets than in home.

In Latin America, a common cause is abandonment by poor families unable to feed all their children. In Africa, an increasingly common cause is AIDS.

In Russia, street children usually[How to reference and link to summary or text] find a home in abandoned sewage systems during the harsh winter. These underground homes offer space, shelter and most importantly of all, heat.

Street Children in Bucharest, Romania[edit | edit source]

The Council of Europe estimates that there are approximately 1000 street children in Bucharest, Romania, though estimates range from several hundred to 10,000. These children are homeless as a result of the policies of former Communist ruler Nicolae Ceauşescu, who forbade contraception in the hopes of ruling a populous nation, or of his successors, who consider the economy of greater importance than social welfare. Many of these children are abandoned or run away from home because their parents are too poor to feed them. Some Romanian street children are preyed on by sex tourists, mainly from western Europe, and many can be seen inhaling aurolac (a paint thinner) from plastic bags, the substance of choice for those of limited means.

Street Children in India[edit | edit source]

The Republic of India is the seventh largest and second most populous country in the world. With acceleration in economic growth, India has become one of the fastest growing developing countries. This has created a rift between poor and rich; 22 per cent of the population lives below the income poverty line. Due to unemployment, increasing rural-urban migration, attraction of city life and a lack of political will India now has one largest number of child laborers in the world. Street children are subject to malnutrition, hunger, health problems, substance abuse, theft, CSE, harassment by the city police and railway authorities, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Though Government of India has taken some corrective measures and declared child labor as illegal.

Street Children in Brazil[edit | edit source]


Estimates on the numbers of Brazilian street children vary from 200,000 to 8 million. In one recent survey in São Paulo, 609 children were found to be sleeping on the streets. At least 50 were under 12 and unaccompanied by adult relations.

The main means of surviving on Brazil's streets are: finding food in rubbish bins or on refuse tips; being financially exploited by street sellers or as shoe shiners; stealing; prostitution; drug running and drug taking.

Street children are known to receive beatings from the police or members of the public and also can face imprisonment, malnutrition, disease and AIDS.

Underlying Causes[edit | edit source]

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of approximately 166 million people. The disparity between the rich and the poor in Brazilian society is one of the largest. The richest 1% of Brazil's population control 50% of its income. The poorest 50% of society live on just 10% of the country's wealth.

Street children are an urban problem which has roots in rural poverty, neglect and the enforced, even violent displacement of large numbers of people from the land.

This problem is accentuated by the fact that the urban population is becoming younger. In Latin America alone, projections for the year 2020 point to 300 million urban minors, 30% of whom will be extremely poor [Ref: Independent Commission on International Issues]. 78% of the Brazilian population live in cities and towns.

The persistent poverty, rapid industrialisation and the burgeoning of urban shanty towns (favelas), generate massive social and economic upheaval. Profound poverty means family disintegration, violence and break-up become more prevalent.

Death Squads[edit | edit source]

Most of Brazil's street children expect to be killed before they are 18. Between 4 and 5 adolescents are murdered daily and that every 12 minutes a child is beaten [Ref: Brazil's National Movement of Street Children]. Conservative figures put the number at 2 killings every day.

There are reports that some children have been executed and/or mutilated. In July 1993, eight children and adolescents were killed in a shooting near the Candelária Church in Rio. This event was widely publicised around the world, and the routine killing of street children in Brazil was harshly critisized. As a result, the death squads moved underground. However, corrupt officials are still reputed to be involved - In São Paulo, 20% of homicides committed by the police were against minors in the first months of 1999.

The death squads have been met with little opposition from ordinary people, who feel threatened by gangs of children. Some members of the police force also fear the children, who are becoming knowledgeable witnesses to corrupt criminal activities by officials in the drug and prostitution business.

Drug Gangs[edit | edit source]

Drug gangs now account for roughly half the child murders in Rio [Rio de Janeiro State Legislature]. Since the 1990s, a pervasive drug culture has been burgeoning. Today, Brazil ranks as the second biggest consumer of cocaine in the world, after the USA. As a result, in Rio's 680 favelas (where 25% of the city's population live) drug gangs control extremely violent areas. Some street children are recruited by such drug gangs and given guns for protection. They then traffick drugs and messages between sellers and buyers. A child's chance of dying in the drug areas of the favelas is "eight to nine times greater than in the Middle East." [Ref: Save The Children] The massive proliferation of small arms is a central cause.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Jubilee Action report "Brazilian Street Children"
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