Today, there are an estimated 100 million homeless children in the world. Many more children, due to family instability, poverty or abuse, spend the majority of their days on the street either working or begging. The U.N. defines a “street child” as any child for whom the street has become his/her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood and who is not sufficiently supervised or protected by adults.
Street children are at high risk of verbal, physical and sexual abuse; girls are highly vulnerable to sexual assault, sex trafficking and may resort to commercial sex work. Street life poses other risks such as hunger, drug abuse, violence, disease, labor exploitation and police brutality. Worse yet, many street children are viewed with contempt by the public; they are seen as dirty, criminal, and are subject to discrimination.
Street children are in desperate need of guidance and support. Fortunately, there are many nonprofit agencies and organizations around the world helping street children through advocacy and outreach. Here are five organizations fighting for justice and rehabilitation for street children:
I Care in South Africa
I Care is a small nonprofit organization based in Durban, South Africa that provides support, rehabilitation and education for street children. The main goals at I Care are to help children learn crucial life skills like honesty, good work ethic and a collaborative attitude. These skills will help them get off the streets and live successful lives. The organization has been helping street children since 2002, directing donations to rehabilitation and skills programs. Rather than giving directly to children, I Care urged the public to direct funds to its programs, which include safe-houses, free meals and skills training for kids living on the streets.
The Africa Educational Trust
The Africa Educational Trust (AET) recognizes the severe problem that homeless and street children pose in Africa. Street children are at high risk for disease, drugs, exploitation, physical and sexual abuse. The AET believes that education is key in improving the lives of street children. The organization works with schools to help them understand the unique needs of street children, who have trouble successfully integrating into classroom settings. By partnering with local organizations, the AET provides psychological and academic support to children beginning or re-entering school. “School starter kits,” which include uniforms, textbooks, and other materials are prepared and distributed to children in need.
This U.K. based organization works to find children in abusive, neglectful, and/or impoverished conditions in order to prevent them from running away and living on the streets. Railway Children works in India and East Africa, where millions of orphans and runaways fill the streets. They also work in the U.K., where hundreds of children run away from home each year to escape violence and neglect. Railway Children makes a point to partner with local authorities and civil society because “[local partners] know the area, children, and local culture best.” Outreach workers reach out and gain the trust of street children, return them home when possible, and tailor to the needs of each unique case. The organization also works with policymakers, advocating for children on the street and making sure they are prioritized in the creation of legislation.
The Consortium for Street Children
This NGO unites member organizations around the world to fight for homeless children through international advocacy, legal services, outreach, research, grassroots casework and policy analysis. The global network consists of more than 100 NGOs, lawyers, researchers and individuals helping street children in 135 countries. The organization facilitates cooperation between members and adopted a five-year plan in 2019 to mobilize global action for street children’s rights by pressuring U.N. member states to amend policies and protect children. In 2018, the Consortium for Street Children hosted an international conference focused on equality and inclusion. The organization asserts that every single person on this planet matters and that street children should be afforded the same rights and opportunities as their peers.
Founded in the U.K. in 2008, Street Child has helped over 200,000 street-associated children and families by providing educational opportunities and poverty relief. The organization believes that universal basic education is crucial in the elimination of global poverty and recognizes the many obstacles to education facing street children. Street Child creates low-cost, sustainable solutions informed by research in 1o countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Millions of children around the globe have to live and work on the street to survive. This dangerous environment makes them vulnerable to violence, exploitation, hunger and disease. Helping street children should be a global priority. Luckily, organizations providing outreach, advocacy, education and protection for street children have made great strides in the global fight against poverty.
– Nicollet Laframboise