The Question of Street Kids in
The overlapping perception of street kids all over
the world remains a challenge and in Rwanda its quite a new
phenomenon in which several questions have been raised as to what
could be the remedy to what is understood to be a social menace.
However, scholars have distinguished the
relationship of child streetism to mainstream society into the three
First, it is an exclusive urban construct. Children in rural areas
who are similarly placed are not identified as such including
children in rural villages. Nor, for that matter, are children in
other traditional groupings, such as fishing communities, even if
they live in a city.
Secondly, street children belong to middle and late childhood age
groups for example in the Ghanaian survey by Van Ham, Blavo and
Opuku, 1992, whose findings have been replicated elsewhere, 51% of
children were 13 to 15 years of age and 34% were 7 to 9 years old.
Only 4% of the children were younger (4-6 years of age). This
distribution of age apparently reflects the fact that the youngest
age at which a child can work on the street is around 5 and can
survive -if alone-when s/he 6 or 7 years old, while older children
leave the streets in search of more profitable, socially rewarding
and stable forms of employment.
Thirdly, most street children are male. Girls make up no more than a
quarter of street children and typically far less. For example, in
Namibia and Botswana, they account for less than 5% of this
population. This much lower participation rate for girls is usually
attributed to cultural constraints and families' insistence that
girl children help with the housework, a duty from which boy
children are generally excused.
Perception versus facts
The typical depiction of street children by the
media invariably connects them with physical deprivation, inadequate
nutrition and hygiene and, the skirting of the law. It also portrays
children as being vulnerable to adult (particularly male)
exploitation and to environmental hazards.
These and other negative traits are supposedly evidenced by the
street child's poor health, inadequate clothing and alienation that
percolates down to feelings of personal insecurity, resulting to
emotional disabilities and destructive behaviour. All this reflects
the fact that these children spend much of their time away from
adult support. Yet, empirical evidence is quite different. Any
street child earns, on average, as much as the adults in their
vicinity and often up to one and a half times the minimum wage of
most of these adults. For example, in Gaborone, Botswana, where a
maid usually earns $20 for eight hours of work, few street children
would spend 15 minutes to clean a car for less than $5. Their
income, therefore, is generally sufficient to meet the cost of
decent and nutrition meals.
Indeed, for many, food is far less plentiful at
home, if available at all. For this reason, too, a good outfit is
usually not beyond their means, although they often ignore
middle-class views of decency in preference for worn-out clothes,
or, if engaged in begging, then they wear tattered clothing and wash
only weekly, to increase their earning potential.
In the same vein, research regularly shows that most street children
are predominantly healthy and that when they are ill, they are
usually looked after by a relative. Thus, many of them resort to
self medication purchased from traditional drug sellers or over-the
counter, which is a phenomenon common in the under developed world.
Another misconception about street children is that they are highly
individualistic or that they are driven to individual behaviour by
their circumstances. Research shows, however, that they are more
likely to lie and operate in groups, where solidarity extends from
sharing food, so that everybody at least gets something, to
providing emotional support.
These groups are highly organised. They usually
have a recognised leader, whose position is rarely based on
harassment, while other members treat each other as equals. Indeed,
it is as if they create for themselves new families. For example,
Vittachi (1989) described a group of children in Chile who lived
under a bridge. Every morning they drew up shopping lists and
distributed tasks, while the older members went to work, the middle
aged children cared for the youngest.
The last facet of child streetism suggested that its members live
largely in a “children's society.” However, at one and the same
time, most street children (including those of the street) are
rarely cut off from positive adult influence. This is because their
resilient, family anchored counterparts often attach themselves to
adult “mentors” or are temporarily “adopted” by adults in times of
trouble. This is especially so in Africa, where in spite of the
weakening of the traditional responsibility of adults to direct the
conduct of children-whether or not their parents- practice persists.
Finally, and again in contrast to popular perception, most research
shows that few street children are actively involved in crime,
although given that some of their activities, such as begging, are
regulated by law, they are often 'attended to' by the police.
For example, in both in Windhoek and Bombay, two
out of five children reported that were at times arrested,
incarcerated (Taçon, 1991a, Blanc, 1994).
Similarly, in Botswana, 75% of the children who were detained by
police were found to be criminally 'clean' (Okello-wengi, 1994), and
in Zambia, Taçon (1991a, 1991b,) was able to stress a single street
child who was ever brought to court. Instead it appeared that most
detentions of street children are driven chiefly by so called clean
up companies in the belief that their presence affects tourism
adversely (Dorfman 1984; porio et al, 1994).
Other reasons are that informal trading competes with established
enterprises and established government revenues they can generate
from issuing permits.
No wonder, that it remains a big threat to the
government and the society at large because it is a challenge as to
to how it can be dealt with.
26 April 2005