Myth Busters: What You Know About Street Children

Street Children. Photo by Marcus Lyon

Street children live on the street.

Street children are runaways.

Street children are on the street because of poverty.

Street children only exist in poor countries.

Street children are victims.

Street children are criminals.

These are some common misconceptions that many of us have concerning street children. While they do hold elements of truth, these myths don’t tell the whole story. Here’s why

Myth: Street children live on the street

Truth: Street children have many connections to the street - some live on the street, some work on the street, others spend much of their time ‘hanging out’ in public spaces and don’t go to school. Some do all three. Some street children maintain relationships with their family whereas others have lost or broken all contact. ‘Street children’ are also sometimes called ‘runaways’ or are known as ‘children in street situations’ or increasingly as ‘street-connected children’. Whatever they are called, (they are children for whom) the street plays a significant role in their everyday lives and identities.

 

Myth: Street children are runaways

Truth: A runaway is a person who has ‘run away’, especially from their family or an institution. Many causes lead children to the street. Not all street children are running from something or running to something. There are children who have been abandoned or orphaned. There are children who literally got lost. The best way to determine how the young person became a street child is to ask her or him.

 

Myth: Street children are on the street because of poverty

Truth: Poverty is one reason why there are street children – but it is not the only cause. Other ‘push’ factors leading children to the street include death, displacement, isolation, mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of violence against children, drug use and even discrimination. There are also ‘pull’ factors such as the enticements of apparent freedom, financial independence, friendships, adventure, and city glamour, which draw children to the streets. It's complicated.

Poverty is one reason why there are street children – but it is not the only cause 

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Myth: Street children only exist in poor countries

Truth: Street-connected children can be found in most countries, both rich and poor. There are more reports of street children in countries and regions where social and economic inequalities are high. In the UK, street children are more commonly known as runaways or detached youth. In the USA and Canada they are included in ‘street youth’. The nature and degree of children’s connections to the streets in richer countries may be different to those in developing countries, but they have many experiences in common.

 

Myth: Street children are victims

Truth: All street children experience constant and direct exposure to violence and some will even die as a result. Violence can also be a factor in pushing them onto the street, perhaps through family violence or war. Once on the street, violence is also a challenge: street children have repeatedly reported suffering violence at the hands of adults, the police and other street children. Although street children are constantly vulnerable to numerous dangers on the street, they are also resourceful and often resilient individuals. Street children actively make their own connections with the street: they build friendships and survival networks, even homes there and many earn a living for themselves, siblings and sometimes for their whole family on the street.

 

Myth: Street children are criminals

Truth: To earn a living, survive or spend large amounts of time on the streets, children may need to use tactics different to those used by other children. They may beg or run errands, sell goods and services illegally (or sell goods and services that are inherently illegal). They may loiter, use drugs or sleep in prohibited public spaces or on private property. In criminalising survival behaviours or not taking account of the reasons behind children’s involvement in criminal activities, society stigmatises and alienates street children. Street-connected children often see themselves as able to make a positive contribution to society.


Four (4) of the above Myth Busters originally appear on streetchildrenday.org

Check out these and other myth busters about Street Children, here.

The International Day for Street Children is celebrated on 12 April each year. Find out how you can take action and help street children get their voice heard.

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