The problem of street children is found almost in every part of the world. Street children are homeless, spend day and night on the street, have no one to take care of them, are without shelter, usually do petty jobs to survive, become beggars, or victims of sexual abuse and other social transgressions.
They live in abandoned buildings, parks, auto garages, workshops and under the open sky. They are deprived of family care and protection. They cannot assimilate in society and become a liability rather than an asset. Lacking education, they turn into a work force that has no future. Mostly these are teenagers but some are as small as between seven years to twelve years.
There can be many causes behind this problem. These include;
- Rampant poverty,
- Domestic violence,
- Family breakdown,
- Armed conflicts,
- Natural calamities,
- Physical and sexual abuse,
- Exploitation by adults,
- Urbanization and overcrowding,
- Diseases and others.
Due to these causes children become subject of neglect, abuse, exploitation, and sometimes even murder. They move to big cities in order to find work for their survival. They feel frightened and helpless. They cannot even save themselves from weather cruelties and have no access to medicine when they fall ill. Having no qualification, education or necessary skills to adjust in the society, they become disconnected and end up on streets.
Street children can mainly be found in two categories. One that becomes the bully type or the ones who learn to survive through means considered illegal in civilized society. They end up doing criminal or unethical activities. Their activities may vary from picking pockets to vandalism, from theft to dacoity, from rape to murder, from dealing in drugs to child trafficking. They become protege of gangsters, face police torture and sometimes become violent to strangers.
It all begins with the basic instinct of survival. A street child will do anything to survive. He would be first afraid of doing anything illegal but would do it when he is hard pressed to do so. As illiterate and without professional training, they face difficulty in finding proper jobs. Also public has overwhelmingly negative views about them. The public views them with suspicion and fear while many would like them to disappear. Street children fall prey to illegal activities, sometimes in reaction to the above mentioned discretionary attitude towards them and sometimes in order to sustain themselves.
Many of this type of street children become juvenile offenders and find a place in overcrowded prisons. There they have every chance of becoming hardened criminals. They even subject their fellow street children to do their bidding. Some become members of street gangs, drugs mafia and child trafficking rackets. They form their own pressure groups. These are exploited and manipulated by the more powerful people like private business proprietors, civilians, law enforcement personnel and security agencies.
The second category of street children includes those who have become victim of their fellows and other man made problems. They lack the tactics, will power or physical endurance to keep abreast with the demand of their tough life. These are the ones most vulnerable to social evils like physical and sexual abuse, torture, exploitation, child trafficking, begging and drugs among others. Girls and minor boys may be subjected to prostitution or other sexual activities by force, coercion or fraud.
4. Child trafficking, an example
Child trafficking is one particular example of the horrors faced by these children. The victims of child trafficking are mostly from second category of street children. They are recruited, transported, harboured and received for different exploitative purposes. Trafficking may include such pervasive purposes as forced labour, servitude, slavery and removal of organs, or it may include such illicit activities as prostitution, sexual exploitation, early marriages, child soldiers and begging. United Nations and other NGOs are working continuously in countering this practice. Many governments have also made laws to prevent this practice.
In developing countries they form a source of cheap labour. House-maids, workshop boys, hotel servants, couriers, delivery boys, baby sitters and even servants can be seen to form a pool of cheap labour.
A particular such case is that of South Asian children being trafficked to Middle East as camel jockeys. These children are kept in unhealthy congested places with no or limited access to basic amenities of life. They are then blindfolded and made to ride a camel in races. Their food and other wages are tied with their performance in the races. If a child does not perform well, he may be tortured or kept without food for days.
5. Major problems street children face
Major problems faced by these children are;
- Child trafficking, and
These are the problems mostly faced by the street children but to eliminate these problems effectively we have to solve some more important problems first. These include;
- Professional training,
- Help in setting up their future,
- Sense of alienation, and
- Absence of love
6. Some work done
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides the basic framework to protect street children. Though most governments have ratified the above said treaty, they have failed to protect these children. Governments find no economic leverage in their welfare. Also these children have no right of vote and no share in governance. So the governments pay little heed to them. Mostly, when governments do tend to find a solution, they put these children in orphanages, juvenile homes or correction centres. Sometimes, governments work in collaboration with NGOs on many programmes aimed at welfare of these children.
The problem of street children can be handled properly if we could develop a multi-pronged strategy that works for the welfare and ease of both the society and the child.
This may involve;
- Advocacy of the cause of street children,
- Community support and education,
- Residential rehabilitation programmes,
- Full-care residential homes, and
- Other such programmes.
Some NGOs have successfully applied the following strategies;
- Special targeted feeding programmes providing these children with food supplements,
- Providing free medical services to these children,
- Legal assistance in claiming their rights and standing on their own feet,
- Education in an environment which helps them to learn rather than forcing them to avoid schools,
- Family re-unification where possible,
- Night shelter centres and drop-in centres for them,
- Psychological and moral support providing better integration into mainstream population,
- Changing attitude of street children towards their circumstances making more self aware and self-relying.