Life as a Street Child
There are an estimated to be more than 50 million street children in Latin America alone. If they were all in one place, they would have their own country and a seat at the United Nations. But in the meantime, they are de-humanised and forced to the extremes of sometimes heartless societies in which they are condemned to live.
Most street children have some family links but spend most of their lives on the streets. They beg, sell trinkets, shine shoes or wash cars to supplement their families income. The remaining children live on the streets, often in groups with other children. Known as “street children “ they sleep in abandoned buildings, under bridges, in doorways or in public parks.
They often resort to petty theft and prostitution to survive, Most are addicted to inhalants. In Guatemala, it’s cobbler’s glue. In Honduras it’s Resistol, in Mexico it’s activo, a potent industrial solvent. All devour sinuses and lungs, cause kidney failure, irreversible brain damage and can eventually kill. And yet thousands of Latin American children, some as young as six years old, surrender to chemicals – to lessen their pain and to escape from reality and constant hunger pangs.
Abandoned on city streets by parents too poor to feed them, or forced to flee political instability or oppression, they face a future of begging, stealing, prostitution, teenage pregnancy, chronic illness and early and often violent death.
Extreme poverty, physical, economical, emotional and sexual abuse by parents ( often step-parents ) are the most common cause of children leaving their families. Psychologists and social workers refer to the problem as “family disintegration“ – the breakdown of the nuclear family.
Throughout Latin America millions of children are born into shantytowns. These have mushroomed on the periphery of large cities over the last 30 years, a result of rapid urbanisation and the absence of land reform policy. The social phenomenon of street children is increasing as the developing world’s population grows. In fact, the largest ever global generation of children will be born in this decade. Four out of ten urban dwellers were under 18 years of age in 2000. That number is expected to increase to six out of ten by 2025.
Whilst Casa Alianza recognises that poverty and global economic imbalance contribute to the suffering of street children, the organisation has chosen to focus its resources on offering these children the option to improve their lives by offering sanctuary, rehabilitation, vocational training and legal aid. We also work with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch / Americas, SOS Torture and other human rights organisations and individuals throughout the world who support the street children’s cause.