Foreign Policy Blogs

Street Children


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The problem of homelessness, poverty and street children faces every country and should concern us all. The United Nations estimates that their are over 150 million street children world wide. Whether the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Free Town, Bucharest or New York, the problems children face on the street are much the same. Hunger and safety are endless concerns, while drug and alcohol abuse run rampant. Street children are highly susceptible to become victims of abuse or human trafficking. Therefore street children run high risk of drug and alcohol abuse, contacting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Street children run a huge risk of exploitation by those on the street, including each other, as well as that of the local law enforcements designed to serve and protect. Children on the street face more violence from the authorities, than that of other children, a factor that can often result in death. It was shown in studies by Human Rights Watch, that children where treated as second class or subhuman in many cases, beatings where often the result of nothing more than the fact they where unprotected street kids. Sexual exploitation and abuse by law enforcement has also been a factor for many children on the street, often asked to preform sex acts to escape arrest or harassment. Street children are easy targets for many factors including, innocence, illiteracy, and the sear fact that they are alone. So why are the police committing crimes against vulnerable children in so many cities around the world? “Several factors contribute to this phenomenon: police perceptions of street children as vagrants and criminals, widespread corruption and a culture of police violence, the inadequacy and non-implementation of legal safeguards, and the level of impunity that officials enjoy. (Police Violence Against Street Children).”

While much of life on the street for children is the same, there are various causes leading to a life on the street. Children find them selfs on the street for such indicators such as poverty, domestic violence, rural-to-urban migration (this often includes displacement due to war or civil unrest), unemployment and homelessness of their parents, intolerance (for various reasons including sexual orientation), and sexual exploitation. The marginalization of street children, is often increased due to the above mentioned reasons, as well as by extreme socio-economic barriers and situations.

Brazil by far has the highest number of street children, some estimate the numbers between 12-17 million, becoming more of a social plague that many see little hope of changing. The movie City of God graphically highlighted the violent struggle of everyday life for kids on the streets in the in Rio de Janeiro, and follows the journey of on boy fighting to escape the streets through a camera, not a gun. The extremity of street children in Brazil was changed little by the international publicity of the movie. Millions of children roam the streets of the Rio slums daily, addicted to drugs, forced into prostitution, in fear of death and each other. Brazil is not a legally backwards country with no legislation for the protection of it's children, as a matter of fact they have one of the best movements for the rights of street children. Therefore why are children continually murdered on the streets, and why does the cycle of the streets seem to be something that is unbreakable? Death Squads are notorious in Brazil targeting street children, and are often made up of ordinary citizens who fear the children, and corrupt officials who fear the children know too much. According to Caius Brandao, ICRI Brazil Project Coordinator, “…killing children is a profitable ‘pastime’ in Brazil. The so called ‘cycle of impunity’ means not only neglect or omission, but a rather profitable corruption scheme within public security and law-enforcement agencies.” There are an estimated 4-5 children murrdered each day on the streets, and few children of the streets can expect to live past their 18th Birthdays.


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In India the problem with street children Children in India are often victims of the flesh trade and forced labor, rural children. Children are often picked up from the areas surrounding the cities train stations ,and lured by promises of a reliable income to send home to their families. As with other areas children often run away to escape poverty, abuse and sexual exploitation. Though India has substantial laws against the use of child labor, they are often disregarded through corruption, difficulties in enforcing it in the rural parts of the country, or a lack of education on individual human rights.
The plight of street children in Bucharest, Romania was brought to light with the 2003 CNN documentary, “Easy Prey: Inside the Child Sex Trade”. In the wake of a communist free Romania, social reform and welfare where left in the shadows, along with thousands of children. Many children where driven to the streets from abusive homes, turned away from orphanages, families with no money to feed children, or sadly many where simply abandoned or unwanted by families. During communism birth control and abortions where rare and hard to come by, causing the birth rate to skyrocket, and thus increasing the number of abandoned children. Like many former-Communist countries, the situation of the orphanages is extremely harsh, leaving children even more vulnerable, and they are turned away at 15-18 with little or no skills for life outside and therefore soon find themselves on the streets.

Millions of children in Russia, Mongolia, Kenya, Moldova, Congo, Mexico, Tanzania, Guatemala, and many other countries, including the United States, live impoverished and violent lives on the street every day. The issue of street children needs more attentions, as the street is a breading ground for so many children's rights violations, including the right to education and the right to life. The fight for street children must come from all levels of government, and include the local and international community.



Photo by CNN



Street Kids International

The European Foundation for Street Children Worldwide (EFSCW)

P A N G A E A: Street Children – Community Children Worldwide Resource Library

Save the Children

World Vision

Street Children Statistics

Friends International

SKCV India – Helping Street Children in India

Follow Me Appeal – Providing support and assistance to the children featured in, “Easy Prey: Inside the Child Sex Trade”

Railway Children



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict