Street children facts —
There are an estimated 100 million children
living in the streets in the world today.
Children living on the streets are especially
vulnerable to victimization, exploitation, and the abuse of their
civil and economic rights.
International indifference to the problem has
led to continual neglect and abuse of these children.
Who are Considered Homeless and Street Children?
Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
asserts that “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a
standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual,
moral and social development.” Homelessness denies each one of those
rights. According to an Inter-NGO Program on street children and youth,
a street child is “any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for
whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied
dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become his or her habitual abode and/or
source of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, directed, and
supervised by responsible adults.”
US AID has divided Street Children into Four
A ‘Child of the Streets': Children who have no
home but the streets, and no family support. They move from place to
place, living in shelters and abandoned buildings.
A ‘Child on the street': Children who visit
their families regularly and might even return every night to sleep
at home, but spends most days and some nights on the street because
of poverty, overcrowding, sexual or physical abuse at home.
Part of a Street Family: These children live on
sidewalks or city squares with the rest of their families. They may
be displaced due to poverty, wars, or natural disasters. The
families often live a nomadic life, carrying their possessions with
them. Children in this case often work on the streets with other
members of their families.
In Institutionalized Care: Children in this
situation come from a situation of homelessness and are at risk of
returning to a life on the street.
Street Child Statistics
The hidden and isolated nature of street children makes accurate
statistics difficult to gather; however, UNICEF estimates there are
approximately 100 million street children worldwide with that number
constantly growing. There are up to 40 million street children in Latin
America , and at least 18 million in India. Many studies have
determined that street children are most often boys aged 10 to 14, with
increasingly younger children being affected (Amnesty International,
1999). Many girls live on the streets as well, although smaller
numbers are reported due to their being more “useful” in the home,
taking care of younger siblings and cooking. Girls also have a greater
vulnerability to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation or other
forms of child labor.
Where do Homeless and Street Children Live Around
Homelessness is largely an urban phenomenon, yet children are
homeless and living on the streets in every region of the world from
developing countries to the most affluent countries. Latin America and
India , for example, are known for their large populations of street
children, despite the significant efforts of some governments and
non-governmental organizations. The AIDS epidemic and civil wars in
Africa have caused a surge in the number of street children as a result
of the abandonment of AIDS orphans or fatalities due to armed conflict.
Failing economies and falling currencies in parts of Asia force the
poorest families onto the street, often leaving children abandoned and
homeless. Unstable political transitions, such as the end of Communism
in Eastern Europe , caused unprecedented numbers of street children due
to inadequate social security for the poor and those formerly State
supported. Children often experience the effects of political, economic,
and social crises within their countries more severely than adults, and
many lack the adequate institutional support to address their special
needs. Eventually, they end up on the streets.
Perspective: In 1996, the United States had 5.5
million children living in extreme poverty, approximately one million of
whom were on the streets. A study conducted by the Luxembourg Income
Study shows poor children in the United States are poorer than children
in most Western industrialized countries, since the United States has
less generous social programs, the widest gap between rich and poor, and
high numbers of poor immigrant and unwed teen mothers. The poverty
and social conditions many American children face lead to large numbers
of homeless and street children.
Vulnerability and Homeless and Street Children
Children who are vulnerable to street life include those who have
been abandoned by their families or sent into cities because of a
family's intense poverty, often with hopes that a child will be able to
earn money for the family and send it home. Children who run away from
home or children's institutions frequently end up on the street since
they rarely return home due to dysfunctional families, or physical,
mental, and/or sexual abuse. In several areas of the world, disabled
children are commonly abandoned, particularly in developing countries.
In addition, refugee children of armed conflict areas, children
separated from their families for long periods of time, and AIDS
orphans, repeatedly find nowhere to go but the streets.
The Effects of Street and Homeless Life
Homelessness and street life have extremely detrimental effects on
children. Their unstable lifestyles, lack of medical care, and
inadequate living conditions increase young people's susceptibility to
chronic illnesses such as respiratory or ear infections,
gastrointestinal disorders, and sexually-transmitted diseases, including
HIV/AIDS. Children fending for themselves must find ways to eat; some
scavenge or find exploitative physical work. Many homeless children are
enticed by adults and older youth into selling drugs, stealing, and
Drug use by children on the streets is common as
they look for means to numb the pain and deal with the hardships
associated with street life. Studies have found that up to 90 percent of
street children use psychoactive substances, including medicines,
alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, cannabis, and readily available industrial
products such as shoe glue.
The mental, social and emotional growth of children
are affected by their nomadic lifestyles and the way in which they are
chastised by authorities who constantly expel them from their temporary
homes such as doorways, park benches, and railway platforms. Countries
in Latin America like Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Brazil are
notorious for the torture and violence inflicted on street children,
many times escalating to murder — by police officers or death squads.
Street children lack security, protection, and hope, and continue to
face a deep-rooted negative stigma about homelessness. And, more than
anything else, they lack love.
Many governments, nongovernmental organizations, and members of
civil society around the world have increased their attention on
homeless and street children as the number of this disenfranchised
population continues to grow dramatically. Nonetheless, more action is
necessary. Most importantly, as a result of adverse economic conditions
in many countries, an international plan to provide basic housing needs
to be developed.
In 1992, the United Nations issued a Resolution on
the Plight of Street Children, expressing concern over the emergence and
marginalization of street children, and the acts of violence against
them. The Resolution called for international cooperation to address the
needs of homeless children and for enforcement of international child
rights laws. European nations that have taken effective steps toward
combating homelessness include Belgium , Finland , the Netherlands ,
Portugal , and Spain . In many countries, governments have included a
right to housing in the national constitution. The Finnish devised a
plan in 1987 including house-building, social welfare, health care
service, and a duty to provide a decent home for every homeless person.
The number of homeless people in Finland was cut in half after 10
years. However, the major problem with State programs is that
children often reject the alternative assistance offered by the State.
On a local and regional level, initiatives have been
taken to assist street children, often through shelters. Many shelters
have programs designed to provide safety, healthcare, counseling,
education, vocational training, legal aid, and other social services.
Some shelters also provide regular individual contact, offering
much-needed love and care.
Many NGOs have been founded with mission to improve
the plight of homeless adults and youth. Casa Alianza, active in Mexico
and Central America; Child Hope UK working with local groups worldwide;
Butterflies, based in New Delhi, India; and, Street Kids International,
a Canadian-based organization, all focus specifically on street
children. Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre (JAC) Society, based in Delhi ,
India , pioneered the first intensive study on Homeless children ever
conducted; they have also set up numerous shelters providing basic
security, food, and clothing for more than 50,000 homeless people in
If you are interested in helping street and homeless children, you
can volunteer to work in shelters and other programs in your area, or
donate funds or supplies to organizations that work with street youth.
You can also participate in legislative efforts and write letters to
your Congressional Representative urging him/her to support increased
funding for programs in the United States and abroad that assist street
children. Finally, you can raise awareness of this issue by educating
yourself, your peers, colleagues, students, teachers, family members,
and others around you interested in this issue.
 Beasley, Rob. “On the Streets,” Amnesty Magazine. April 1999.
 Alston, Philip. “Hardship in the Midst of Plenty,” The Progress of
Nations , 1998, p. 29.  “U.S. Poor are among World's Poorest,” The
New York Times , August 14, 1999 .
 Alston, Philip. P. 29.
 Ibid. p. 31.
Amod K. Kanth, Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre Society
Bruce Harris, Casa Alianza
This feature with kind permission of Youth Advocate Program