Portrait of a Street Kid
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 Homeless and Street Children?
US AID has divided Street Children into Four Categories:
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. Extreme poverty, physical, economical, emotional and sexual abuse by parents ( often step-parents ) are the most common cause of children leaving their families and living on the street.
A Child on the street: Children who visit their families regularly and might even return every night to sleep at home, but spend most days and some nights on the street because of poverty, overcrowding, sexual or physical abuse at home. Most street children have some family links but spend most of their lives on the streets.
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. They beg, sell trinkets, shine shoes or wash cars to supplement their families income.
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.
Who is the Street Child?
Street children are most often boys aged 10 to 14, with increasingly younger children being affected. 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 the World?
There are an estimated to be more than 40-50 million street children in Latin America alone. Millions of children are born into shantytowns that have mushroomed on the periphery of large cities over the last 30 years.
If these children were all in one place, they would have their own country and a seat at the United Nations. But in the meantime, they are de-humanized and forced to the extremes of sometimes heartless societies in which they are condemned to live.
What are the Effects of Street and Homeless Life?
The “Children of the Streets” are at highest risk. They live on the streets, often in groups with other children. They sleep in abandoned buildings, under bridges, in doorways or in public parks. Murder, consistent abuse and inhumane treatment are the “norm” for these children. They often resort to petty theft and prostitution for survival. Their unstable lifestyles, lack of medical care, and inadequate living conditions make them extremely vulnerable to chronic illnesses such as respiratory or ear infections, gastrointestinal disorders, and sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 90% of them are addicted to inhalants such as shoe glue and paint thinner, which cause kidney failure, irreversible brain damage and, in some cases, death. And yet thousands of Latin American children, some as young as six years old, surrender to chemicals – to lessen their pain and to escape from reality and constant hunger pangs. They face a future of begging, stealing, prostitution, teenage pregnancy, chronic illness and early and often violent death.
Homelessness and street life have extremely detrimental effects on children. 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 prostitution.
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.
God wants to penetrate the lives of these kids on the streets. He wants us to love the unloved. Our passion is to enter the abandoned areas of the cities and shine a ray of hope into the lives of children, living alone and desolate on the street.