One of the major social problems in many nations worldwide is that of homeless street children.
Children end up on the streets for a multitude of reasons. Some have lost their parents through civil wars, natural catastrophes, and other calamities while others flee from abusive homes or escape to the streets because their poverty-stricken families are unable to care for them.
Street children live a marginalised life, commonly resorting to begging, cleaning car windows, theft and prostitution to support themselves. They are extremely vulnerable to abuse and the girls are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Unsanitary conditions breed illnesses and diseases like tuberculosis, skin diseases, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.
With no access to even the most basic education, the street child has little opportunity of improving his or her life and escaping this harsh cycle of hand-to-mouth existence.
The public view of homeless children in many countries is often negative. Few advocates speak up for them and few of them have family members or concerned people willing to intervene on their behalf.
The streets offer little protection, leaving the children vulnerable to dangerous predators. As they wander around danger-filled city streets in search of food and shelter, there is a risk that they will be exploited by beggar syndicates, manipulated into prostitution, child slavery, mining or killed by death squads or vigilante groups.
As a result of their terrible experiences, street children mature at an early age and become aggressive. However, beneath their hardened exterior, there is a deep vulnerability and the wish for someone to care for them.
There is a pressing need for outreach programmes for the growing multitudes of children for whom each day is a nightmare of hunger and danger.
Practical ways by which we can reach out to street children include:
– Establishing drop-in-centres to offer a programme of shelter, nutrition, clothing, and basic health care. The overall idea of a drop-in centre is to propose a place where street children feel accepted. In general, they are cautious and guarded. Some of them, if not all, feel betrayed and the last thing they need is being let down again by empty promises.
– Offering literacy and vocational training programmes. Most of the children have no skills and to offer them an alternative to street life, they need skills that will equip them for adulthood.
– Resources such as specialised foster homes or family based residential homes to help train and integrate them into society should also be developed as part of a social service program targeted to street children.
– It is also necessary to give them outlets for creativity and self-expression so that they can overcome the negative influences of their past. Responsible role models and mentors will also have a settling effect on them.
– Supporting reputable charities that make a difference in the lives of street children with our time, talents and funds.
The goal, however, is to eventually reunite the child with his family, when that is in the child’s best interest.