In any country where society is no longer well structured, you can always clearly identify a category of children and young people left to themselves living in the public space of the inner cities centres. Their living conditions more or less deeply break with what each society defines as “normal” for a child. Up to 1985, it was agreed to abandon any stigmatizing terminology. Now they are no longer described as “pre-delinquents” but as “streets children”, which is merely descriptive of their living conditions The defining characteristic of these children is to live permanently in public places, especially at night.
Street children live on small businesses (sometimes profitable) such as begging, guarding cars, shopping bags carrying, flight, and less often rubbish rummaging, prostitution… Apart from a few cases, they form a distinctly different population as those known as “children in the street” who spend time in public places to work, and who continue to live with their family for whom they usually represent a significant financial support.
2 _From one city to another, from one continent to another, street children share not only similar precarious living conditions, but also many similar psychological traits, such as :
Each new day being a new fight for survival, they live in the present moment only, no past no future (even immediate future)
Their relation to the world is mainly instrumental : being used to suffer any form of contempt and exploitation, they seek their immediate interest by any mean
Being continuously on the look out, they are extremely vivid, clear-sighted and they have great adaptability skills (unless their cleverness has been damaged by drugs…)
Whatever their age, they are simultaneously very mature and very childish
They are extremely attached to their freedom, and expend a great deal of energy and courage to defend it. Yet, their solidarity skills are quite variable.
Street children are strong personalities, but when they remain children as others, when they can demonstrate…
Street children whose age ranges between 8 and 10-years (sometimes less) and young people (between 18 and 20, sometimes a little more) are not so many (apart from very rare occurrences) : they are usually a few hundreds only, at most a few thousands in the largest cities. Catastrophic figures (in million) provided by the media and a few major organizations are based on a confusing mixture of unfounded sources and information, and should not be considered as reliable.
Studies on the causes of phenomenon almost all lead to the same conclusions : street children are primarily the victims of a failure of their family, voluntary (especially marital instability, exacerbated by urban areas, but also sometimes because of religious beliefs stigmatizing a child as misfortune children” ; or not (orphans, refugees from war or famine). Reasons may vary in rural areas and in cities.
The “street children” phenomenon should not be considered a direct effect of poverty : families in total destitution are usually extremely solidaires. Moreover, leakage can also affect children relatively advantaged. However, when a society breaks up because of a sudden impoverishment, every child living in a frail situation is likely to be one of the first victims of the crises. In countries providing a satisfying schooling, dropping out of school when the family can no longer afford the expense is very often the trigger of the break with society.
Being separated from their parents, they are a in deep emotional deprivation, which determines much of their behaviour, both for their potential recourse to drugs, and for their response to a sincere friendship opportunity. They all seek for affection. Their emotional demand, regardless of age, is actually the only possible vehicle through which adults can establish a bond with them. This obviously requires a highly personalized approach.
Left to himself in the street, every child experiences a specific progress/”career”, each step being reached more or less quickly :
He breaks with his family, gradually or suddenly depending on the case
He discovers a new way of living/a new life : this may be experienced as suffered days or as fun depending on the case
He appropriates his new independent identity and proudly claims it
At last, his life eventually turns into a routine, and he gradually looses any hope for a better life
The relationship between the young and the elder is mainly based on exploitation, operating more or less violently, and potentially softened by “protection/submission” deals when there is structuration in bans. As he grows in strength and determination0 the child abused by the elder becomes abusive, the victim of racket becomes a racketeer, the raped child becomes a rapist (possessing the weaker’s body being an extreme form of assertion oh his superiority)
Over time, marginalization and stigmatization grow, as well as the risks of transition to a crime more serious, or death in the street. Many observations show that, apart from a few exceptions, street children never go back spontaneously to a normal lifestyle.
Research shows that in most cases, the street children phenomenon spontaneously evolves towards a worsening situation through several successive steps :
a) The beginnings are subtle : the categories are blurred and the situations are fluid. Neither the public nor the authorities and the children themselves are aware of the phenomenon.
b) Stabilization the number of children is quite important then the phenomenon is identified by all. The collective organization shall not exceed the unstable group of peers. This is the most common situation in the world
c) The structuration corresponds to a hardening of conditions of living that leads children to organize themselves into bands around a leader in order to mutually protect themselves. Bands claim their identity through specific codes, especially the admission rites. Being a leader over is most of the time (but not always) the result of a struggle for power ; bands firmly rooted in their territories spontaneously wage territory wars. By providing to the child security, help, and also an identity, the band offers him an acceptable mean of surviving, which makes him less demanding if he returns to a normal life.
d) The feminization of the street children world(especially common in Latin America, where the number of girls may reach a quarter of children in the street) is indicative of a serious deterioration of the general social conditions, since girls are usually exploited, but not abandoned. Their escape to the street is a consequence of intolerable family situations (incestuous rape in particular). Their living conditions in the street are particularly dramatic (prostitution is quite systematic, drugs being a support for them). Babies born in the street generally do not survive, their mothers either.
e) The final stage is the crystallization of the street children world into a real counter-society fighting against the adult world. The presence of many girls enables a biological reproduction. Bands are all deeply delinquent ; their relation to the society is governed by violence only, symbolized by the “justice of the crowd” principle which allows them to burn thieves (or suspected thieves) alive. Such cases are rare, but they are the logical outcome of growing and aggravating marginality situations.
Taking action to get the children out of the street is therefore essential to ensure public safety. This is possible because of the low numbers of children involved, and this is relatively easy to achieve because children in emotional deprivation are strongly demanding for a return to normal life.
Methods exist, and they have proved to be successful for a long time : we must first restore a relationship of trust with the child, then offer social rehabilitation tailored to his specific case, always with respect for his personality, freedom and culture. This requires a deeply personalized approach that can only be provided through organizations on a human scale.
Finally, note that, in spite of the common opinion, the elder street children generally (if they are not drug-addicted) re-socialize themselves more easily than the younger since they are much more aware that living in the street is a dead end. When the most deeply delinquent children meet the hope for a better life for the first time, they generally experience the most spectacular transformations.