In many regions of the world, the phenomenon of street children is unabated, while it is emerging in others where it was unknown so far. Behind child disconnection lie highly vulnerable families and communities, many struggling to come to terms with economic liberalization and growing inequality…
- in 2000, there were between 20 and 50 million street children in Latin America (the large range illustrates how difficult it is to count street children accurately). According to Homechild, 70% are addicted to glue;
- Brazil and Mexico have the greatest number of street children within the continent. In Brazil, estimates on the numbers of street children vary from 200,000 to 8 million. According to the Brazilian Center for Children and Adolescents, the country has more than 800,000 child prostitutes.
- most of Brazilian street children expect to be killed before they are 18. Backed by citizen groups and commercial establishments, death squads (who enjoy a high degree of impunity for their actions) have become more and more violent in their goal to ‘clean-up’ the streets. It is estimated that up to 5 or 6 children a day are assassinated on Rio 's streets, even conservative figures put the number at 2 killings every day. Amnesty International listed ‘street execution’ as the third leading cause of death for Brazilian children;
- estimates of the number of street children in Mexico vary greatly. In Mexico City alone, they estimated to be between 100,000 and 2 million. According to UNICEF, about 90% of street children living in the capital have been victims of sexual abuse at some stage in their lives;
- in the cities of Colombia there are thousands of children living on the streets and thousands more living 'in between' their home and the streets. Estimates of their number in Bogotá swing wildly from a conservative 2,500 to a staggering 110,000 (UNICEF). On the street they become known as 'desechables' - the disposable ones - the unwanted and rejected targets of vigilante groups who are intent on cleaning up the streets of urban centres. Every 3 hours, a child is killed on the streets of Bogotá;
- in Argentina, the number of street children in Buenos Aires has reportedly increased by 50% in 2002 due to the country’s recent economic crisis; (1)
- the Asia-Pacific region is home to nearly half the world’s children, including large numbers of street children. According to UNICEF, in 1998 there were about 25 million children estimated to be living on the streets in Asia;
- the number of homeless children is on the rise in China. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, each year (2001-2004) there were at least 150,000 street children under the age of 16, of those 30% are girls and 10% are aged below 10; (2)
- India has as many as 18 million street children, the world’s largest concentration (according to other estimates, 44 million). Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi each have over 100,000. There are twice as many boys on the streets as girls. Some children are part of organized gangs that beg, sing and perform, clean trains, pick pockets, steal or peddle drugs. Almost half are self-employed;
- in Pakistan, estimates put the number of children living in 2003on the streets of Karachi at 12,000, and other 10,000 in Lahore. It is believed there are some 70,000 children living on the streets nationwide. According to the NGO statistics, in Karachi 54.1% of the street children left their homes between the age of 10 and 12. They also estimate that 45% of street children are involved with criminal activity in order to survive while 49% are at a high risk of HIV/AIDS through intravenous drug usage and sexual abuse; (3)
- in Afghanistan, the emergence of large numbers of street children is the consequence of more than two decades of armed conflict. A preliminary head count in early 2002 recorded more than 37,000 children working and begging on the streets of Kabul. Some 80% were boys, with 36% aged 8–10 years, and more than 50% aged 12–14 years;
- an important characteristic of Southeast Asia sub-region is human migration and movement including the trafficking of children and young women. Many street children in the region are disabled and a large number work as beggars (some, it is said, have been deliberately mutilated by adults in order to earn more money);
- it has been estimated, for example, that some 20,000 children aged 3-16 years from Myanmar currently work in Thailand as beggars, street sellers, or rubbish pickers, with many older girls (i.e., 12–19 years) working as sex workers; (4)
- the incidence of street children across Malaysia appears to have not been documented, although one estimate suggests that peninsular and island Malaysia may be home to up to 75,000 street children;
- glaring inequalities have been the curse of the Philippines, a land blessed with abundant natural resources. The Government estimates that there are 222,400 street children with up to 1/4 living in Metro Manila alone. Some NGOs think the figure is several times higher. UNICEF estimates 5.85 million children live in slums under the threat of violent evictions and more than 100,000 are forced into prostitution and pornography. Sex tourism is rife;
- Vietnam has 21,000 street children - the bulk of them in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City - according to government statistics cited in the official Viet Nam News. UNICEF estimates that the number has increased ten-fold over the past decade;
- a 1999 survey of 12 cities in Indonesia found 170,000 street children, a dramatic increase from an estimated 50,000 in 1997; (5)
- research in Australia in 2002, using data from the 2001 census, found an 8% increase in homeless children in the country since 1994. There are now reported to be some 26,000 homeless children aged 12–18 years across Australia;
- Africa today has 10.7 million orphans just as a result of AIDS and the numbers are growing (UNAIDS). With fewer and fewer family members left to care for them, many - if not most - of these children will join the street children of Africa who are already there because of poverty, wars and ethnic conflicts. In Africa, there are probably some 32 million street children;
- according to the local authorities, in Angola some 100,000 children - abandoned by their families - live rough in the southwest of the country. UNICEF estimates that in Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d'Ivoire, there are 10,000 street children, 7.000 in Rwanda, over 30,000 in Ghana, in Kenya 250,000 estimated, 30,000 are in Nairobi alone;
- the population of street children in Ethiopia is massive and apparently growing, although no one has exact statistics on their numbers. They could be over 150,000, according to UNICEF’s figures; of this 66.7% is living in Addis Ababa;
- in Uganda, the problem of street children began in the 1970s and continues to be a problem because of civil war, poverty and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to Caritas (2001), currently there are over 10,000 street children in Uganda, and 85% of these are homeless;
- one and a half children (1.5 million) in Zambia live on the streets. AIDS orphans, or the victims of rural poverty, most live in the capital Lusaka, where they scratch a miserable living to the best of their ability, living the law of the jungle; (6)
- a report published in 2001 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that there were 70,000 ‘unaccompanied’ children - former child soldiers and street children - roaming the Democratic Republic of Congo. No one knows how many children are working and living on the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, but estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000 and the numbers appear to be growing. One USAID representative estimated that 60% of Kinshasa’s street children had been accused of sorcery and kicked out of home by their own parents;
- it has been estimated there are 250,000 children living in the streets in South Africa; in Zimbabwe, according to Futures International – an NGO based in Harare - at least 12,000 children eke out a living on the country’s highways and byways.
- studies estimate that there are between 200,000 and 1,000,000 homeless children Egypt, most of them in the cities of Cairo (around 150,000) and Alexandria. In a survey in 2000 (World Health Organization), 86% of street children identified violence as a major problem in their life. In another survey, 50% stated that they had been exposed in some manner to rape; (7)
- street children are becoming more and more visible also in Eastern Europe and the Balkans where they represent an alarming, recent phenomenon. Most of them maintain a relation with their family and sometimes with school. Other are temporary ‘displaced’ to most prosperous countries from where they support their families begging, selling poor products or (the older girls) working as prostitutes;
- according to UNICEF, the estimated number of children living in the streets in Romania has decreased from 3,200 in 2000 to 1,900 in 2003, of which about 300-400 are in Bucharest. One third of these children are illiterate, 40% have low writing and reading knowledge and nearly 20% have never been to school;
- in the Czech Republic 17,000 social services’ clients out of 40,673 were young people under 15 years of age;
- in Poland, according to the police, in 2002 there were 5,625 children who had run away from home (4,042 were under 15) and 6,662 who had run away from residential care institutions to go back to the streets. The Polish organisation “Foundation for Poland” estimates that there are about 15,000 street children in Warsaw alone; (8)
- in the Russian Federation, statistics regarding street children are extremely contradictory and estimates range from 50,000-150,000. Many children who live on the streets have living parents and potential housing. ILO 2001 survey of Moscow street children showed that only 8.9% of them defined themselves as homeless. In Uzbekistan, the official number of street children doubled between 2001 and 2004, to reach a total of 5,400.
(1) See Cynthia Palacios, "Crece la población de chicos en las calles," La Nación (Buenos Aires), July 29, 2003; available from www.lanacion.com.ar.
(3) Source: IRIN, reported by Reuters, 05 May 2005.
(4) Source: U Soe Soe 2002 (as reported in Andrew West, “At the margins - Street Children in Asia and the Pacific”, Asian Development Bank, October 2003: www.adb.org/Documents/Papers/Street_children__Asia_Pacific/SC_final.pdf
(5) Source: Childhope Asia News Bulletin 11 (1–2), from the Straits Times (as reported in Andrew West, ibid)
(6) Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Pravda, Russia, 2 August 2002.