Research Paper on the promotion and protection of the rights of children working and/or living on the street ohchr 2011 Global Study




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Research Paper

on the promotion and protection of the rights of children working and/or living on the street

OHCHR 2011 Global Study
By Sarah Thomas de Benitez with Trish Hiddleston
Contents Page
Executive Summary P. 4
Section I: P. 5

Introduction


Section II: P. 7

Global Review of Children working and/or living in the Street


Section III: P. 24

Framework of Roles and Responsibilities of Duty-Bearers


Section IV: P. 35

Criteria for Good Practices to Safeguard the Rights

of Children with Street Connections
Section V: P. 53

Data Collection and Research with Street-Connected Children


Section VI: P. 66

Broad Conclusions


Bibliography P. 67
Annexes

1: A Comparison of Resolutions CHR 1994/93 and HRC A/HRC/16/12

2: Examples of roles and responsibilities of various duty-bearers in relation to street-connected children’s protection rights

3: Summary of child protection systems mapping and assessment

4: Background on the selection of the five crosscutting rights-based principles

5: Suggested indicators of ‘good practice’ in the literature about street-connected children

6: Examples of Techniques and Studies by Data Collection Method



Boxes

Box 1: Summary of key changes from 1994 CHR Resolution to 2011 HRC Resolution

Box 2: How are ‘guesstimates’ problematic?

Box 3: How are terms and definitions problematic?

Box 4: How are stereotypes of children’s characteristics problematic?

Box 5: How is a welfare ‘rescue’ approach problematic?

Box 6: Relationship between Rights-Holders and Duty-Bearers

Box 7: Obligations of State Parties as principal duty-bearers under International Child Rights Law

Box 8: Examples of non-State duty-bearers

Box 9: Case Study: Govind

Box 10: Best interests of the child might be applied in ‘good practice’ to ...

Box 11: Non-discrimination might be applied in ‘good practice’ with street-connected children to ...

Box 12: Good practice in participation might include ...

Box 13: Good practice in accountability could be evidenced in ...

Box 14: Good practice regarding sustainability could include ...

Box 15: Good practice regarding safety could include ...

Box 16: Good practice regarding availability of services could include ...

Box 17: Good practice regarding accessibility of services could include ...

Box 18: Good practice in quality of support could include ...

Box 19: Good practice in providing flexible support might include ...

Box 20: Example of a comparative CLRAM Study of children working on the streets in Turkey’s three principal population centres, 2001

Box 21: Children’s Own Research Shoshur Bari and street children’s research in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Box 22: Raising Voices in Uganda

Box 23: Reducing the risk, cutting the cost: An assessment of potential savings from Barnardo’s interventions for young people who have been sexually exploited


Figures

Figure 1: Proposed Typology of Children’s Street-Connectedness

Figure 2: Ecological Model illustrating the Child as nested within various environments

Figure 3: Child Protection Systems: Actors, Contexts, and Components


Tables

Table 1: Central Principles of a Rights-Based Approach and their Implications for Street-Connected Children

Table 2: Examples of Roles of States to Guarantee Rights at the three levels of Obligations with respect to Street-connected Children

Table 3: Proposed Criteria for Good Practice evidenced in Data Collection


List of Acronyms
CHR Commission on Human Rights

CLRAM Child labour rapid assessment methodology

CoE Council of Europe

CPS Child protection system

CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child

DRC Democratic Republic of Congo

HRC Human Rights Council

IASC Inter-Agency Standing Committee

IPEC International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour

MDG Millennium Development Goal

NGO Non-governmental organisation

PCWG global Protection Cluster Working Group

SIMPOC Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour

UNDG United Nations Development Group



Executive Summary

This paper was presented in draft to guide and stimulate discussion at the Expert Consultation on 1-2 November 2011 and to inform the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report to the Human Rights Council. It has been up-dated to take account of the Expert Consultation and other contributions to the study. In response to the invitation in Resolution HRC/RES/16/12 to ‘conduct a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in a holistic, child rights and gender-based approach… including practices in the collection of disaggregated data and experiences on access to child-friendly counseling, complaint and reporting mechanisms to protect the rights of children living and/or working on the streets’, this paper articulates advances in understandings and actions concerned with: children themselves; policy and service approaches; good practice; and data collection.

As an introduction, Section I draws attention to global advances since the first Commission for Human Rights 1994 resolution on ‘street children’. Informed by this context, research and interventions, this paper moves the discussion forward by setting out four inter-linked proposals - each one the subject of a separate Section of this paper.

Section II dismantles myths about numbers, definitions, characteristics and the need to ‘rescue’ children from the street. Attention is drawn children’s multiple rights deprivations and to the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s adoption of the term ‘children in street situations’, recognizing that the ‘problem’ is not the child but the situations in which s/he finds her/himself. Building on this term, ‘street-connectedness’ is introduced to draw attention to choices children make in developing their relationships and identities in the street - in highly adverse conditions with very restricted options. Girls and boys who work and/or live in the streets also have relationships with family, friends and others in the community. Exploring children’s connections to the street, alongside their other relationships, invites us to develop richer, more textured, understandings of their lives.

Section III develops this to consider how States and other duty bearers can: prevent children from experiencing multiple rights violations that push them to the streets; and adequately support children who have developed street connections. Comprehensive Child Protection Systems, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, are proposed as mechanisms able to take a holistic, rights-based, gender-sensitive approach and to prevent street-connectedness. But child protection systems alone are insufficient, and specialized interventions offer critical support to street-connected children. Developing and sharing good practice is a vital ingredient in helping specialized interventions to flourish.

Section IV proposes 10 criteria of ‘good practice’ as applicable to all levels of practice, from community interventions to national budget allocations. These comprise five criteria driven by child rights principles: Best interests of the child; Non-discrimination; Participation; Accountability; and Sustainability; and five normative criteria driven by the circumstances of street-connected children: Safety; Availability; Accessibility; Quality; and Flexibility. These proposed criteria offer a basis for wider consultations about good practice within and across levels of practice and geographical regions.

Recognizing that protection of children’s rights and identification of good practice need a strong evidence base, Section V proposes a concerted focus on data collection, to generate evidence needed for States and other duty bearers to be able to fulfil street-connected children’s rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends a comprehensive and coordinated system of data collection about children, in which data are disaggregated to be able to identify discrimination and disparities in the realization of rights. This paper draws attention to the importance of identifying children’s circumstances and connections, by their characteristics and experiences, to design and monitor implementation of strategies, policies and programmes. Children have the right and expertise to participate as co-researchers in information gathering, analysis and dissemination of research.



Section VI concludes by drawing together the paper’s four main proposals.

Section I: Introduction
This paper consolidates and builds on advances between:

  • 1994 Commission for Human Rights Resolution 1994/93 for ‘street children’, and

  • 2011 Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/16/12 for ‘children working and/or living on the street’.

Since 1994, when the international community last came together to resolve to improve conditions for ‘street children’ within the forum of the Commission for Human Rights, the world has experienced dramatic changes. Global milestones have included:



  • 1999 – Global population passed the six billion mark. Below five billion in 1994, the world population reached seven billion in 2011

  • 2000 – Millennium Declaration launch and collective commitment to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

  • 2000 – UN Global Compact launch, a first strategic policy initiative for businesses committed to ten universally accepted principles and by 2010 the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative

  • 2008 - The world's population became evenly split between urban and rural areas. 54% rural and 46% urban in 1994, 70% is expected to be living in urban areas by 2050

  • 2010 – Numbers of mobile phone subscribers reached 5.28 billion - that’s more than 75% of the global population. Back in 1994, there were fewer than 100 million, and SMS had just been launched to enable text messages to be exchanged between mobiles.

During the same period, human rights instruments were developed and are now in force to better protect children’s rights, and more guidance has been issued of relevance to children in street situations:1



  • In 1994 the (1989) UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) had been ratified by 168 countries. By 2011, 193 countries have ratified, including every UN member except USA and Somalia (which signed in 1995 and 2002 respectively)

  • In 2000, two Optional Protocols to the CRC were introduced (A/RES/54/263): on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and on the involvement of children in armed conflict. By 2011, more than 140 States were parties to these Protocols

  • Several instruments of relevance to protecting street-connected children have also been introduced since 1994, perhaps most notably: ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999); UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol (2000); UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (2010); and the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 10 (2007) on the rights of the child in juvenile justice

  • Two major studies have been undertaken by the UN on children since 1994 which are of direct concern for children working and/or living in the street: The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (1996)2 together with a ten year strategic review entitled “Children and Conflict in a Changing World” (2007)3 and Violence against Children (2006)4

  • In 2011, a joint report to the Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children (A/HRC/16/56), provides guidance and recommendations to strengthen child-sensitive counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms to safeguard children’s right to freedom from all forms of violence.

Reflecting some of these global shifts over 18 years, significant differences are evident between the 1994 Commission on Human Rights (CHR) resolution on street children and the 2011 HRC Resolution on children working and/or living on the street. Annex 1 explores the two resolutions in some detail, identifying shifts between them, reflecting a changing world context, refined human rights instruments and better understandings about children. Box 1 below summarises these changes.




Box 1: Summary of key changes from 1994 CHR Resolution to 2011 HRC Resolution

  • A shift in terminology from ‘street children’ to ‘children working and/or living on the street’

  • A pronounced move towards a holistic, child-centred, gender-sensitive approach

  • Increased awareness of the diversity of children’s characteristics and experiences

  • More emphasis on prevention, with more detailed guidance on priority actions

  • Increased emphasis on addressing discrimination, encouraging social inclusion and enjoyment of all rights

  • Stronger legal instruments and more guidance on legal support for children in the streets

  • New emphasis on research for planning, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, and importance of children’s views and robust data to inform these processes

This paper recognises the importance of these changes, summarises developments in the research about children and human rights, and in response to the terms of the invitation to the OHCHR to conduct a global study5, develops four proposals:



  • That ‘Street Connectedness’ is considered as a concept to explore children’s relationships with and within the street, drawing on a holistic approach that understands children to be growing up within in a series of inter-connected environments. This proposal is set out in Section II

  • That Child Protection Systems (CPS) are explored as structures coherent with a rights-based, holistic approach to protect children from multiple rights violations and prevent street-connectedness. This proposal is made in Section III, which recognizes that if child protection systems are not fully functional, specialized interventions are also needed to offer critical support to street-connected children

  • That 10 Criteria of ‘Good Practice’ provide a starting point for further discussion - five cross-cutting criteria and five normative criteria - building on principles of human rights and on children’s experiences of multiple deprivations and street connections. The 10 criteria proposed are put forward in Section IV

  • That Data Collection must be systemic, disaggregated and generated with the active participation of children to capture information meaningful for policy-making and design of interventions intended to support street-connected children. The arguments are set out in Section V, which identifies the most important gaps.


Section VI briefly draws together these four proposals.

Section II: Global Review of Children working and/or living in the Street

A. Introduction
This Section identifies and dismantles four ‘myths’ that have fostered significant misunderstandings about children working and/or living in the streets. These myths address:

  1. Numbers

  2. Definitions

  3. Stereotypes

  4. Rescue

For each myth, new realities are described that represent current understandings about children’s experiences and lives.


The Section ends by proposing ‘street-connectedness’ as a term more consistent with a rights-based, holistic approach than ‘children working and/or living on the streets’, and which builds on the term ‘children in street situations’. A working definition and typology are introduced, with the aim of advancing discussions about policies and interventions to support street-connected children.


B. ‘Street children’: Four Myths and New Realities6
B.1. Myth 1 - The Numbers Myth: There are 100 million street children and numbers are growing fast…
A frequently cited global estimate of 100 million+ ‘street children’ (and growing) has no basis in research. The figure was floated in 1989 by UNICEF as an estimate of the number of children growing up on urban streets around the world7. More than a decade later, it was claimed numbers were still growing but the figures conflicted: ‘the latest estimates put the numbers of these children as high as 100 million’8. Clearly a ‘100 million’ estimate cannot remain static for well over a decade, while at the same time being said to be growing. Meanwhile, the global population has grown by more than 30% since the late 1980s and urbanization continues apace in much of the global south.

Larger figures have been cited: ‘In 2001, the United Nations estimated that the worldwide population of street children […] was 150 million, with numbers rising daily’9 and some have projected increases to as many as ‘800 million by the year 2020’10 But the magical ‘100 million’ myth has proved resilient: ‘The number of street children is likely to run into tens of millions across the world, with some estimates as high as 100 million’11. The ‘100 million’ ‘guesstimate’ still frames books, reports and academic articles12 sometimes accompanied by an urgent plea to address the rapidly increasing numbers: ‘…The alarming number of street children throughout the world, which is increasing on a daily basis’ 13



Seventeen years ago, Judith Ennew argued convincingly that most estimates of children in street situations had ‘no validity or basis in fact’14. We are no closer today to knowing how many children are working and/or living on the streets of the world.15 As a 2011 report noted: ‘The global numbers of street involved children are not known. It is now generally acknowledged that initial estimates were very over-inflated. The figure of 100 million street children […] though still widely quoted, has been largely discredited by researchers.’16 That said, within a rapidly urbanizing and growing global population, numbers are likely to be increasing; richer regions also seem not to be immune.17
At national and local levels too, ‘guesstimates’ have proved unreliable. An example comes from Latin America18: In Brazil – where the 1993 Candelaria massacre of street children outraged the world - 30 million children were estimated to be living on the streets in the 1980s19. By 1990 this figure had been downsized by a third to 20 million20 and radically reduced again in the same decade to 7 million ‘hard-core’ street children - a figure still cited frequently by institutions, journalists and academics21, although widely attributed to hearsay22. Meanwhile, 1995 head-counts in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo – cities thought to have the largest populations of street children in Brazil - found fewer than 1,000 children sleeping on the streets23.24
Some useful estimates have been generated by empirical research – these are discussed in Section V below. Guesstimates made without reference to well-constructed surveys are best ignored.


Box 2: How are ‘guesstimates’ problematic?

  • Global ‘guesstimates’ intend to convey scale and rising ‘guesstimates’ to convey urgency, but are misguided: In terms of scale - children who live and or work in the streets form a small proportion of the world’s urban poor – it is not their numbers but multiple violations of their rights that require a concerted response; In terms of urgency – numbers may rise sharply in circumstances when crisis conditions prevail (war, internal conflict, political upheaval, natural disaster, health epidemic, economic crisis) and then are likely to gradually fall – they do not require a rapid response but rather a sustained and thoughtful one. Global concern should be less about rising numbers and more about the persistence of conditions that force children to choose to work and/or live on urban streets in certain regions, countries or cities.




  • Alarmist national and local ‘guesstimates’ have provoked governments into launching high-profile programmes and interventions based on insufficient data and misguided expectations. Such ‘guesstimates’ propel discussion away from a realistic assessment of children’s needs and considered responses towards rushed interventions that aim to reduce the apparent numbers of children working and/or living in the streets. They are doomed to fail – losing public sympathy, private sector interest and public sector resources as expected numbers do not materialize and projects fail to reach their goals. As policy-makers, private funders and the public become disillusioned, programmes are abandoned and children may be viewed as too hard - or even resistant - to help.




  • Alarmist ‘guesstimates’ can encourage repressive responses by police as authorities seek: to calm public fears that their safety is threatened by inundations of ‘delinquents’; or to develop an image conducive to attracting investment, sporting events or high-level visits. Aggressive policing may clear the streets of visible children working and/or living in the street, creating the illusion of a successful strategy, but is likely to further endanger children as they are pushed into more marginal spaces or placed in detention centres in violation of their rights.




New Realities: Numbers of children working and/or living on the street fluctuate and are more realistically assessed regularly at local level.

A number of countrywide situation analyses to estimate numbers of children in the streets have been carried over the years, in countries as diverse as Romania25; Mexico26; Zimbabwe27; Georgia28; and Turkey29. These exercises can be useful as initial assessments of numbers, characteristics and circumstances of children in urban streets. A 2009 study in Georgia found that the Point-Count Estimate revealed there was an average of 1,049 street children in the four cities in November 2007, with a maximum estimate of about 1,600 children’30. National counts have rarely been repeated (Mexico is an exception with one in 1999 and a second in 2004), not least because of logistical difficulties and costs but also because they are of limited value for planning policies and designing interventions. Their greatest value may lie in puncturing alarmist ‘guesstimates’ – particularly about numbers of ‘street-living’ children31 - and providing pointers for more detailed research with children working and/or living on the streets.


City-level counts, occasionally extending to two or three cities (e.g. Cairo and Alexandria, 2001)32 have often found smaller numbers of children working and/or living on the streets than earlier ‘guesstimates’ suggested:

  • Mexico City: A 1970s ‘guesstimate’ by the authorities suggested 200,000 children were ‘roaming the streets of the capital’33, but three surveys between 1992 and 2000 found numbers of street children (street-living and street-working children) to be 15% to 20% of that number despite assertions by some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and media that numbers were growing34.



  • New Delhi: A 2010 study found approximately 51,000 street children (street-living, street-working and street-families’ children)35. That figure is just over half of earlier conservative guesstimates of 100,000 (2005)36 and just one eighth of some of the more alarmist guesstimates of 400,000 (2004)37 still in use today38

Differences in stocks and flows of children can be dramatic over time: a NGO in Puebla City, Mexico finds numbers of new children coming on to the streets in the 2000s have slowed since the 1980s to a ‘trickle’, while observers in several cities of Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) report respectively ‘phenomenal’ growth and ‘an explosion’ in numbers over the last decade39. In large cities and in smaller urban settings, numbers have proved a helpful guide to the scale of planning for children living and/or working on the streets: a 2007 street survey in Thika Town in Kenya by NGOs in coordination with local authorities found 260 to 300 children working and/or living in the streets. A second, repeat survey in 2009 found numbers had fallen in two years by 40-50% to 150-160 children working and/or living on the streets40. The real value of such studies is less in establishing numbers per se and more in improving understanding of children’s lives and changes in street experiences.



B.2. Myth 2: The Terminology Myth: ‘Street children’ either live in the streets, or work there and go home to their families at night
The first definition of a ‘street child’ developed by UNICEF in the 1980s, trying to make sense of a surging phenomenon of children moving onto Latin American city streets, was:

...any girl or boy... 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, supervised, or directed by responsible adults41.



UNICEF distinguished three groups42:

  • Children ‘in’ the street: ‘home-based’ children who work on the street but go home at night to their family

  • Children ‘of’ the street: children who sleep and live on the street who are ‘street-based and functionally without family support’ although they maintain family links43

  • Abandoned children: ‘street based’ children who are completely on their own

The terms ‘in’ and ‘of’ the street became very popular in 1980s literature, deriving mainly from field research pioneered by UNICEF in Colombia and Brazil, and subsequently exported to Africa and other continents44.
By the 1990s, some researchers had found these categories unhelpful because they did not reflect realities they found on the ground. For example, some children moved between categories - sometimes ‘of’ but at other times ‘in’ the streets. Others spent significant periods on the streets but didn’t fit either ‘in’ or ‘of’ – as they ‘hung out’, accompanied siblings, or lived with their families on the streets. Other researchers found the categories to be too constraining and ‘…constructed more revealing typologies and systems which consider other dimensions of street life such as street territories, social organisation, economic activities, and integration with street culture.’45 Children’s street ‘domains’, their relationships and identity construction began to be explored.46
By the 2000s, the ‘in’/‘of’ terminology in practice was deemed unsatisfactory by many scholars ‘as children themselves defied these generalizations’47. Today, scholars generally recognise ‘street children’48 as a socially constructed category that in practice does not constitute a homogeneous population or phenomenon. Used as early as 185149 the term is still useful as a rallying point for advocacy, fundraising and publicity. But for research, planning of policies, design of interventions and understanding children’s everyday lives it has, with time, proved less helpful.

New Realities in Terms and Definitions: they evolve to reflect better understandings of children’s experiences and develop more supportive approaches
HRC Resolution A/HRC/16/12 has sidestepped the definitional dilemma to some extent by using the phrase ‘children working and/or living on the street’ without defining who or what is included or excluded. However, even this more careful phrasing presents difficulties, excluding by implication, amongst others:

  • Children when not on the street, even those who at various times work and/or live there (e.g. seasonal street workers, children who use in temporary shelters, children who move between street and home, children who are removed from the street to children’s homes, remand centres or other forms of forcible detention)

  • Children who accompany adults or children working on the street but do not themselves work or live on street (e.g. dependants, friends, members of street-centred groups or gangs)

  • Children who ‘hang out’ on the streets (e.g. use temporary night-shelters or are out of school and have limited places to go in the daytime, or who get together to use drugs / alcohol on the streets)

The term ‘children working and/or living on the street’ also draws attention to children’s physical presence on the street, ignoring their emotional attachments to public places.

Other options have been proposed, roughly within three broad categories50:




  1. Extension of UNICEF’s ‘in’ and ‘of’ the street categories to include new groups or sub-groups, e.g. children of street-based families, homeless children, runaways, young street adults, and migrant children on the streets51 52



  1. Use of alternative terms and/or definitions premised on recognising children as capable social actors and even as having street ‘careers’53. Notably, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, has ‘…on the basis of a “rights based approach” decided to choose the new wording “children in street situations”, which puts the accent on the idea that the child has of his/her own situation. In fact the problem is no more the child her/himself but the situations in which s/he may find her/himself.’54 Other examples include use of the terms ‘street-active children’55 or re-defining the term ‘street children’ as meaning ‘children for whom the street is a reference point and has a central role in their lives’56, a definition adopted by the NGO Plan while changing the term to ‘street involved children’: ‘We have adopted the following broad definition of ‘street involved children’: ‘’Children for whom the street is a central reference point and has a central role in their lives’57.




  1. Rejection of the categorization of children in terms of association with the street, on grounds that such debates identify children as a ‘social problem’ or ‘out of place’58 and: ‘…problematize the ways in which society’s gaze, through such classification and implication of difference, serves to stigmatize the group and ends up serving the interests of particular sectors of society59. The political nature of categorization has been highlighted, for example: ‘[Re]Labelling ‘street children’ ‘street families’ conveys that Kibaki government’s moral ethnicity is up to the task of converting what are seen as dangerous thugs into future citizens working hard for the Kenyan nation.60. There has also been some refocusing and merging of children working and/or living on the streets into larger phenomena, for example as mobile youngsters within the collective term ‘children on the move’61.



Box 3: How are terms and definitions problematic?

  • The use of different terms and contested definitions complicates attempts to find out how many children are in street situations that violate their rights, and limits efforts to compare findings from different studies.




  • Refinement of UNICEF’s ‘in’ and ‘of’ the street categories risks over-simplifying and compartmentalizing children, failing to take account of children as social actors with multidimensional lives.




  • Creation of alternative terms and definitions risks dispersing or ‘silo-ing’ knowledge and advocacy about children’s experiences, by focusing on themes or geographical regions.




  • Shifting attention away street-based experiences risks missing children’s engagement and ignoring their connections with the streets, while ‘Children themselves, of course, are still on the streets, easily visible in the great majority of urban centers.’ (Panter-Brick, 2002:148)






B.3. Myth 3 – Stereotypes: Children working and/or living in the street are ‘Victims’ or ‘Delinquents’
Early research and publicity around ‘street children’ in Latin America focused on establishing ‘the hallmarks of a street lifestyle and the characteristics of street children62. In 1970s and 1980s Latin America, particularly in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, ‘street children’ were found to be – and became typically represented as:

  • Male

  • Aged on average 13 to 14

  • Washing car windscreens, selling chewing gum or polishing shoes

  • Prone to engagement in substance abuse, early sexual activity and criminality

  • Orphaned, abandoned or from dysfunctional, poor families

These stereotypes and causal representations have often transferred with little question to other countries in the region and even exported to Africa and Asia63. However, ethnographic research has established that characterizations of street children as ‘victims’ or ‘delinquents’ reflect public attitudes towards them - as helpless and hungry or as criminals lacking morality and respect for the social order - rather than realistic representations of characteristics of actual children or their circumstances64.



New Realities: Children have diverse characteristics. Prevalence of specific characteristics varies by location, time and context.
Researchers have found substantive and dynamic diversity in children’s characteristics and their reasons for occupying the streets.
Gender stereotypes have been successfully challenged, with differences found even between cities in countries in the same region: for example a study in West Africa’s Mali and Ghana found ‘in Bamako, the large majority of our sample were boys, whereas in Accra, three out of four were girls’65. Boys in Bamako seem to have run away from all-male Koranic schools, while in Accra significant numbers of girls surviving on the street are young mothers66. That said, many cities continue to have predominantly male street child populations67. Research exploring gendered experiences has found differences between girls and boys in, for example: coping strategies68; activities69; health70.
There is also diversity in average ages: Europe, USA, Canada and increasingly Latin America have older street-based populations than do cities in Africa and Asia (although specific cities attract different age groups) – and change over time. In the Kenyan city of Thika, for example, the number of ‘youth’ as a proportion of the street-based child and youth population was found to have increased considerably from 2007 to 200971. Age presents different threats and opportunities: as children age into youth on the streets, work prospects, recreational activities, treatment by authorities and group responsibilities may all change72. In Mexico ‘…if street kids survive, they are likely to become youths, young adults, veterans and seniors of streets and institutes, and the main exit from street life is death73. In some places children may transition away from the streets while unemployed youth move into public spaces74, in others children ageing out of institutional or foster care can find themselves on the streets as young adult drug users75.
Descent, or caste, features in India, where ‘lower’ castes and ethnic groups are over-represented76 on the streets, but children of all descents, ethnic groups and backgrounds have been found in the streets of Nepal77. A high proportion of indigenous children on the streets has been reported in Guatemala, and children with disabilities (some deliberately maimed, others not) in India and Egypt78.
Street-based occupations are extremely varied and dynamic, reflecting: cultural context79; local informal market realities (e.g. possibilities for washing car windscreens, juggling at traffic lights, breathing fire, selling chewing gum or fruit; recycling garbage); as well as the local illegal economy (e.g. sex selling, theft, drug running and selling pirated goods). Many children combine different jobs or change between them according to conditions. Some children are able to exercise a degree of choice over the type and conditions of work they do; others are forced into and controlled while doing specific jobs, such as commercial sex selling and forced child begging80.
Substance abuse varies by location and over time, as well by age, gender and other variables. Two studies in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), conducted eight years apart, found striking differences in drug use. In 1992: ‘None of the 200 children in our survey were drug users. Glue or lacquer sniffing, widely practiced amongst street children in Thailand and in South American countries, is fortunately absent in HCMC’. But by 2000 at least one in six children living on the streets used heroin: ‘There is little doubt that heroin addiction is the biggest problem faced by street children in HCM City today. The children themselves say so, as do the service providers and other concerned agencies.’81 Children’s engagement in early sexual activity and involvement in crime are similarly more related to wider social conditions, transformations and inequalities than to whether they work and/or live on the streets.
Conventional wisdom has been challenged in relation to family backgrounds. Children traditionally viewed as orphans, abandoned and alone on the street, have often been found on closer inspection to have strong, ongoing – if erratic - links to home, although home may be extremely disorganised and/or a highly abusive environment. And while poverty has been mooted as ‘the major cause of street children’82, and has indeed been found to be an important pathway to the street in many contexts83, the great majority of children who live in poverty do not work and/or live on the streets. Pathways other than orphanhood, abandonment and dysfunctional, poor families for children working and/or living on the streets have been found to include84: war and internal conflict, natural disaster85, HIV/AIDS prevalence, homelessness, school failure86, violence and abuse of children in households and communities87; the demise of the extended family88; along with social exclusion, rapid urbanization and income inequalities89. Research in Rio de Janeiro has found children on the street to be: ‘virtually indistinguishable from other youngsters from the same communities of origin in terms of their physical appearance, consumption, dress and sexuality. Like these other young people living in the ‘favelas’ and urban peripheries, they are also subject to poverty, to a lack of adequate state provision for education, health, sanitation and security and of cultural, sport and leisure opportunities.90.
In general, then: ‘paradigms have shifted from considering individual children as the site of problems - either as victims or as delinquents - to the conception of children interacting with a variety of environments’91, and the focus has changed from ‘dysfunction, pathology and psychological breakdown’ to understanding characteristics of children’s street lives as embedded in multidimensional contexts.


Box 4: How are stereotypes of children’s characteristics problematic?

  • They simplify, failing to reflect and therefore misrepresenting diverse realities of children’s lives.




  • Children perceived as ‘victims’ are more likely to be treated as passive objects of welfare rather than as subjects of rights (Ennew, 2003).



  • Children perceived as ‘delinquents’ are more likely to be feared, excluded and subjected to random and state-led violence, and are more likely to end up in the penal system (Wernham, 2006).





B.4. Myth 4: Children must be ‘rescued’ from the street, as a place of unremittingly negative experiences
The one thing all street children have in common is that they are at risk of exploitation, violence, sexual abuse, chemical addiction and numerous human rights violations. Sometimes they are at risk from the very authorities who are charged with protecting them.’92
Children are exposed to a range of risks in the streets on a daily basis. Children experience many forms of violence there93 and as a UK study with detached young people, some of whom spent time on the streets, reported: ‘Perhaps one of the most shocking findings of the research is the prevalence and extent of violence in the children and young people’s lives’94.
High levels of exposure to violence and other risks, together with a sense of children in the streets as being ‘out of place’, means children in street situations are often seen as victims who need to be ‘rescued’ from the streets. For a small proportion of children - those who are forced to beg or sell sex for example – rescue from handlers, traffickers or pimps may indeed be vital to enabling children to access their rights. However, many interventions for children have been informed by a ‘welfare-based’ approach95 irrespective of children’s rights, experiences or views. In general, the view of the street as an unremittingly negative environment from which children must be rescued ignores:

  • That many children seek refuge in the street in response to, or instead of, what they perceive as more negative environments

  • That the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children rights be fulfilled – implying that their presence or not on the streets, while important, is a secondary concern

  • Some children’s own accounts of fun, adventure, play and modern consumption, of creative ingenuity and financial independence, and of meaningful relationships in the streets



New Realities – Children’s rights must be fulfilled: their voices and daily experiences are key to understanding – and responding to - their circumstances, coping strategies and aspirations
A paradigm shift in the last decade96 and a rights-based perspective in which children are seen as subjects and active participants, has led to a new emphasis, congruent with the remit of this study, on:

  • Listening to children’s perspectives of their own lives and circumstances

  • Improving understandings of children’s everyday experiences

  • Focusing on enabling children to access their rights

This new emphasis, while proposing a different approach, can in no way be interpreted as reducing the moral or legal imperative to act to help children in street situations.
Children asked about their experiences on the streets often – although by no means always - include positive reflections about meaningful or enjoyable activities, spatial freedom, and friendships.
Activities: While some street work can be unremittingly negative in terms of children’s survival, development and access to human rights, particularly if it is forced and controlled by adults, some street work can play a positive part in children’s daily lives and identity formation. It can encourage resourcefulness and enterprise 97 as children: manage jobs; use opportunities presented by seasonal agendas, cultural festivals and tourist centres98; or develop tactics for survival such as ‘blagging’ (persuading people to give food or other support)99. Some research has identified children as embarking on street ‘careers’ as they explore income options, learn new skills and develop livelihood opportunities100, reflecting strategies used in mainstream society. Working can enable a child to enter or remain at school or can help younger siblings access their rights. This does not mean that street work is an acceptable facet of children’s lives101, but in highly constrained circumstances and adverse environments, some street work may represent the best available choice for children to be able to exercise their human rights. Such decision-making has been called ‘tactical’ or ‘thin’ agency102, referring to: ‘decisions and everyday actions that are carried out within highly restrictive contexts, characterised by few viable alternatives’’103.
Even destructive activities such as drug use may not be unremittingly negative, for example when deployed as a coping strategy in highly adverse conditions: ‘A group of 20 street children built the hideout themselves […]. They begged, stole and prostituted themselves to survive. Drugs helped them cope with their lives…104. Or as part of a complex sub-cultural experience in Indonesia, where the ‘Tikyan’ get high together to perform: ‘a kind of collective ritual of escapism. […] also a means of suppressing hunger and inhibitions, to reduce anxiety, stress and depression and to help release anger, frustration and dissatisfaction with their marginalised role in society. […] Drug use, however, is also about seeking enjoyment, reinforcing solidarity and creating a sense of belonging and status within the group. Moreover, it is a collective protest against stigmatisation as street children, and thus a claim to power over their own bodies.’105 This is not to say that substance misuse should be interpreted as a positive aspect of young people’s lives, but that it may help children survive deeply distressing conditions.
Spatial freedom: Despite their inherent risks for children, the streets can also present some children with opportunities for personal freedom, adventure and financial independence. Children’s use of space in Mexico has been found to shift over time from a ‘reluctant’ to ‘harnessed’ mobility106, reflecting changes from powerlessness to a certain mastery of surroundings in children’s relationship with the street. Children interviewed in Nepal saw time living on the streets as ‘transitional’107 - a useful training stage between leaving a difficult or unpalatable home-life and accessing better employment. Some children have found better livelihoods through illegal migration across international boundaries108 although other research cautions that migration does not automatically lead to ‘social mobility and many young people find themselves moving around with little reward’109. As well as the empowerment possibilities offered by mobility110, children also learn to interact with others to develop complex social networks over time, processes which can be understood as contributing to the formation of personal and social identities111.
Friendships: Children can develop and sustain meaningful relationships in the street. Street gangs can act as ‘surrogate families’112. ‘Stroller’ bands with fixed territories and internal hierarchies113 have been found to share resources and information, protecting from outsider violence, and offering support during illness114. Street subcultures can provide a reference group, a collective identity, with clear values and policing of norms115. While such groups can put newcomers ‘at the mercy’ of peer relations116, they can also teach life skills and how to embark on a street ‘career’ based on networks of solidarity and reciprocity117. Such networks, sometimes perceived as supporting organised criminal behaviour, may also be ‘a resource for developing a modern, democratic and ethnically diverse society118 and ‘a critical network of mutual support that enhances the prospects of surviving on the streets.’119 Looser, informal, street groups have also encouraged collective reciprocity suited to informal urban living - from Rio de Janiero to Addis Ababa and Accra120. Different characteristics are also associated with diversity in children’s relationships. In Kenya, for example, girls have been found to develop and sustain more supportive emotional and material ties on the street, in contrast with a more fractured, competitiveness found between boys121.
Family relationships – even ‘fragile affective ties’ to family122 - matter. Child-centred research confirms the importance of family-based violence, abuse and neglect as important pathways to the street123. But children have been found often to sustain active relationships with family while living on the streets. Children may make tactical decisions to be on the street - to reduce harm or improve options for themselves or their families124. There is also evidence of children moving onto the streets, from home or from alternative care, to search for family members125. And young people have been found to set store by and continue to invest in relationships with at least some members of their families – particularly mothers and siblings - even when living away, through visits, telephone calls, relayed messages or meetings outside the home126.


Box 5: How is a welfare ‘rescue’ approach problematic?

  • It encourages a widespread but usually mistaken belief that children who work and/or live on the street have no families or have relentlessly ‘bad’ families that forced their children out.




  • It focuses on satisfying children’s ‘needs’ as perceived by adults, rather than on fulfilling children’s rights.



  • It reinforces an understanding of the street as the ‘worst’ option - rather than as a logical response by children to other possibly ‘worse’ options - and therefore an environment from which children must be ‘saved’.



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