What is Human Trafficking and what is modern day slavery?  HT and contemporary slavery include debt bondage, serfdom, forced labor, forced marriage, transferring of wives, inheritance of wives, and transfer of a child for purposes of exploitation.  Also forced prostitution, child prostitution, sale of children, and trafficking in children.

Street Children

The Prevalence, Abuse & Exploitation of Street Children


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The UN has been attributed as estimating the population of street children worldwide at 150 million, with the number rising daily.  Ranging in age from three to eighteen, about 40% are homeless.  As a percentage of world population, this is unprecedented in the history of civilization.  The other 60% work on the streets to support their families.  Some are sent out by their impoverished parents to work or to beg.  They are unable to attend school and are considered to live in "especially difficult circumstances”.  Increasingly, these children are the defenseless victims of brutal violence, sexual exploitation, abject neglect, chemical addiction, and human rights violations1.  In a report from Afghanistan2, we learn of Samir, an 8-year-old boy who lost his father in the war and now lives with his mother and three siblings.  As women are forbidden to work in Afghanistan, he, the oldest boy, is now responsible for feeding the family.  Through begging and polishing shoes, he tries to earn enough money to keep his family from starving.  We also meet Safi, 11-years-old, the only child left of eight in his family, and Absal, 9- years-old, whose father has been a political prisoner for years and whose mother is struggling to keep her family alive.  And then there is Aruso, 4-years-old and an orphan.  Every day she is taken into the streets by the older girls to beg with them.

UNICEF has defined three types of street children: Street-Living, Street-Working, and Street-Family.  Children from street families are children who live on the streets with their families, while street working children are children who spend most of their time working in the streets and markets of cities, selling or begging, fending for themselves but returning home on a regular basis.  They are sometimes referred to as market children3.

Street living children are children who may have lost their families through war or illness, or have been abandoned because they had become too much of a burden, or else ran away from their abusive, dysfunctional, poverty-stricken families and now live alone on the streets.  There they are further traumatized by the abuse, rejection and indifference of the societies in which they live.  They work, living and sleeping in the streets, often lacking any contact with their families.  It is not unusual to see children as young as four or five years old working in the street, selling chewing gum, matches or trinkets.  These children are at highest risk of murder, constant abuse and inhumane treatment.  They often resort to petty theft and prostitution for survival.  They are extremely vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.  Most of them are addicted to inhalants such as shoe glue and paint thinner, which cause kidney failure, irreversible brain damage and, in some cases, death3.

Without education they have little hope of getting a decent job or building a better life in the future.  Children may be lured by the prospect of a more exciting life in the city or a chance to earn money. The reality is that they usually live in terrible conditions with no one to protect them and often no record that they even exist.  They can easily end up working for little pay in dangerous conditions. They are at risk of sexual abuse and exposure to sexually transmitted infections.  Some turn to drugs as a way of coping, or crime as a means to survive, which involves them with the police. While many police are just doing their jobs, others harass or take advantage of vulnerable street children.  There are cases in Latin America where street children have been murdered by police who are ‘cleansing’ what they see as a social nuisance4.

In a poor developing country, a child with learning disabilities is often abandoned and ends up living on the streets and likely to be targeted for abuse and exploitation.  In one report, a teenager with Down's Syndrome was observed living alone on a building site, in a half-built house, with four stray dogs for company. He slept on a filthy mattress and used an empty tin can as a cup.  He was surviving completely on his own, without the help of the local authorities.  He survived by begging for food in a nearby bus station.  Other scenarios leading to abandonment are domestic violence, family breakup, and economic migration of the parents5.

Most of the children come from difficult situations, and the majority of the kids are not the cute, innocent children used on the covers of sponsorship brochures.  A few kids are cute, but most street kids are thankless, rude, dirty, diseased, scar-faced, shifty-eyed, lice infested, suspicious, smelly, and have rotten teeth8.  They live on the street and they absorb the filth of the gutter.  Within days they are on drugs - glue as a minimum.  They put the glue into bottles, and hide it under their tee shirts, guarding it with their lives.  They sniff it constantly because it gets them high and masks their loneliness and gives them security.  Soon they are on to harder drugs.  City officials initiate campaigns to get rid of them.  They are the victims of violence. They disappear.  Hooligans shoot them.  Their bodies are found on dumps and in the gutter9

In the central area of Mexico City there are 11,172 street children. 1,020 live in the street and 10,152 work there7.  In Nepal, it is estimated there are over 900 street children in Katmandu alone, and over 5,000 in Nepal as a whole.  While on the street, the children suffer hunger, disease and emotional scars, and are at risk of falling victim to sexual exploitation8.  They beg, steal, and sell themselves for a hot meal, a hot shower, a clean bed.  Living on the edge of survival, they are often swept up in an undertow of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, sexual abuse, rape, and murder10.



 1.    P A N G A E A - Street Children - Community Children Worldwide Resource Library

 2.    Street Children’s Project

 3.    http://www.mexico-child-link.org/street-children-definition-statistics.htm

 4.    http://www.worldvision.com.au/onebigvillage/print.asp?topicID=73

 5.    http://www.mexico-child-link.org/street-children.htm

 6.    Countering a Culture of Death, by Michael Johnstone

 7.    City of Mexico/Fideicomiso, Report, 1991

 8.    Latin American Mission

 9.    Spotlight On Saathi - Helping Street Children In Nepal

10.  Casa Alianza