Street Involved Children – Background

There are about 150 Mio (the total amount is not known) Street Children around the world who run away from home and live on the streets or the underground. The age varies from the newborn child to the beginning of the twenties, depending on the country and culture. Every day they are facing violence from fellow Street Children or other people in public or private spheres.

The definitions of Street Children

Street Children have become a topic of greater interest. The focus on Street Children has led to a growing number of attempts to understand the complexity of the term in a global definition. Especially governmental and nongovernmental organisations, countries and researchers have tried to understand the term Street Children, throwing light on the subject from many different angles. These researches and studies most commonly focus on Street Children as a financial burden and concentrate on commercial aspects as a measure to solve the problems.

 As there seems to be no single definition containing all necessary aspects of the term Street children, we will focus on a small variety of definitions to allow a comprehensive perception of the topic as a whole. 

A successful description of Street Children cannot be achieved, by only considering Street Children themselves. It was rather difficult to find only one definition for the term Street Children, as it tends to vary from country to country. Especially the cultural background, but also the daily life and violence they are exposed to, have a strong influence on the way Street Children are taken note of and also live their lives “on” and “off” the streets. The way Street Children live and the experiences they make are not only influenced by the way they live and the experiences they make, but also by the laws and conventions of the countries in which they live. 

Street Children in general

The given definitions of Street Children, or street-involved children, as they are very often called in the literature, vary from country to country. Street Children can be divided into several subgroups and have to be looked at individually. One major difference has to be made between children and youths, but also between living “on the street” or Street Children “off the street”. A further difference has to be made regarding their social surrounding, for instance, family and friends and their possible support of the Street Children.

UNICEF (Meincke, 2009) started to look into the unlike categories of Street Children and found and described three different categories of Street Children. According to UNICEF (Meincke, 2009) Street Children can be divided into “Street Children of the streets”, “Street Children on the Streets” and “Street Children living in street families’. These differences are well-established and are used for further explanations. The age and gender of Street Children is a further important factor to be considered. Generally speaking, it is very difficult to give exact definitions for Street Children, as there is a certain amount of crossover.

Children and youths “of the streets”:

The first category of Street Children, which UNICEF described in 1986, is the children and youths “of the streets”. According to UNICEF (Meincke, 2009) children and youths “of the streets” can be described as young people living 24 hours on the streets. They do not go to their families or any other Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) for shelter at night or in bad and cold weather. This means that they don’t only spend their leisure time on the streets, but they also work and sleep on the street all through the year. The social contacts these young people have are mainly with other people, who are also living on the streets. They only receive visits from their carers very seldom or not at all.

Street Children with even less frequent contact with their carers are included in a sub-category of children “of the streets”. This sub-category UNICEF defines as the typology of “abandoned children”. Street Children, who are considered to be “abandoned children”, include orphans, runaways, refugees, and others who have no contact at all with significant carers. The category of Street Children “of the street” is, even together with its sub-category “abandoned children” the by far smallest group of Street Children compared with the other categories. Recent studies have shown that only an estimated 5% to 10% of the overall count of Street Children belongs to this category. The majority of children and youths can be found in the categories children “on the streets” and “street families” and will be discussed in the following definitions.

Children and youths “on the streets”:

UNICEF (Meincke, 2009) defines the second group of Street Children, as the children and youths “on the streets”. These children and youths live with their parents or other family members, but work and have their leisure time mainly on the streets. Although this form of Street Children exists all around the world in a similar way, there are important differences. Especially in countries and regions of the global south like for instance countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America this category of Street Children exists mainly for financial reasons. The children and youths in these regions often have to earn their living from a very young age to support their families and themselves. In the more developed countries Street Children “on the streets” are often found seeking adventure and friendship on the streets and spending their leisure time there, having their family or relatives as a shelter and a backup. This form of Street Children is quite common and although it seems to be a soft form of street child life because it affects so many individuals it has to be examined very carefully and may not be underestimated.

The “Street Family”

The last group of Street Children recognized and defined by UNICEF in 1986 are the Street Children who live as a “Street Family”. These Street Families live their whole life on the street. Street Children from “Street Families” often get born on the streets and get raised and educated by their parents, either mother or father or other relatives. These youths and children don’t have any acceptable shelter, healthcare, education or perspectives. These Street Children tend to live their entire life on the streets. As with the category of the children “on the streets”, children of “Street Families” can very often be found in the countries of the Global South such as countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This situation can especially be explained by the general lack of social systems and problems with the overall economic situation in these countries. Generally speaking, it is very difficult to give exact definitions for Street Children, as there can be a certain amount of crossover. For instance, a child “on the streets” could be sleeping on the streets for a while or a child “off the streets” could be living with a carer for some time or at least have contact with them. The line between “on the streets” and “off the streets” may be very thin at times.