Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the definition of a street child?

A:  A street child is a term used to refer to children who live on the streets. Definitions of street children vary; the most commonly accepted set of definitions, attributed to UNICEF, defines street children into two main categories:

  1. Children on the street are those engaged in some kind of economic activity ranging from begging to vending. Most go home at the end of the day and contribute their earnings to their family. They may be attending school and retain a sense of belonging to a family. Because of the economic fragility of the family, these children may eventually opt for a permanent life on the streets.
  2. Children of the street that actually live on the street (or outside of a normal family environment). Family ties may exist but are tenuous and are maintained only casually or occasionally. 1

Q: What causes a child to become a street child?

A:  Children end up on the streets for a variety of reasons.  Often, children have no choice but the streets because they are abandoned, orphaned, or thrown out of their homes. Some street children choose to live on the streets because the conditions at home are so bad; they may be mistreated, neglected, or their families cannot provide them with basic necessities. Many children seek work on the streets to increase their family earnings so they can survive. The following is a list of causes identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the creation of street children:2

  • Family breakdown
  • Armed conflict
  • Poverty
  • Natural and man-made disasters
  • Famine
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Exploitation by adults
  • Dislocation through migration
  • Urbanization and overcrowding
  • Acculturation
  • HIV/AIDS3, 4

Q: How many street children are there in the world?

A:  This number is undetermined.  There have been estimates which range from 30 million to 170 million.  However, it is hard to keep track of children on the streets especially since they are not included in surveys and censuses.  These numbers are just estimates.  It is debatable whether numbers of street children are growing globally or whether it is the awareness of street children within societies which has grown.5

Q: Which country has the highest amount of street children?

A:  It is hard to determine which country has the highest amount of street children because all numbers regarding street children are based on estimates.  However, based on estimates, India or Brazil have the highest amount of street children.  India has an estimated 11 million street children and Brazil has an estimated 1 - 10 million street children (Brazil has conflicting estimates).6, 7

Q: What problems or harsh realities do street children face living on the streets?

A:  Street Children face many hardships living on the streets some of these include violence, sexual abuse, poverty, malnutrition, and other increased health problems. 

  • Violence: Children are often beaten by police and government officers as they attempt to ‘clean the street’ free of street children. They are often jailed for alleged crimes that they did not actually commit to ‘clean the street’.9  Not only are street children beaten by police officers, the weaker children and girls are beaten by the older children and gang members. 

  • Sexual Abuse:  Street children have also been required to give sexual favors to police officers.9  Police are not the only ones who sexually abuse street children.  Female street children are sexually abused by many other males as well, including other street children. 

  • Drug Abuse:  Children on the streets often turn to drug abuse to make them feel better.  However, the drug abuse makes the children more vulnerable to violence and abuse.8

  • Poverty:  The children living on the street have very little or, more usually, no money to use to support themselves.  As a result, street children turn to begging, self prostitution, and other degrading work for money. 

  • Malnutrition:  Since these children live in poverty they do not have access to food to maintain good health. Often children spend what money they make on drugs or unhealthy food. 

  • Other Health Problems:  AIDS and HIV are increasingly becoming problems for street children. These and other diseases are easily contracted on the streets because of common drug use and sexual abuse.8 


1 Dr. Musanda Lemba. UNICEF Assessment of Street Children.Rapid Assessment of Street Children in Lusaka. Project Concern International Zambia. April 24th 2008

2 Street Children: WHO 3 of  9.March 26th 2008. April 24th 2008

3 Maria Tabam. African Orphans Project - help AIDS orphans and streetkids live a better life. July 7th 23 2008

4 UNICEF - Ethiopia - Ethiopia: Steady increase in street children orphaned by AIDS. July 7th 2008. April 23 2008

5 Sarah Thomas de Benite. Page 64, Section 7.1.1.State of the World's Street Children-Violence. Page 64, Section 7.1.1. Consumer for Street Children 2002. April 23 2008

6 Noreen Shannon. April 2005.New Internationalist Publications.Street Children "our lives our words" - NI 377 - The Facts. April 24th 2008.

7 Editoria Abril S.A.July 1993. A chacina das crianças da Candelária. April 23rd 2008.Hope Unlimited launches $4.8 million campaign for street kids. April 24th 2008.

8  Noreen Shannon. April 2005. New Internationalist Publications.Street Children "our lives our words" - NI 377 - The Facts. April 24th 2008.

9 Human Rights Watch. Promises Broken. December 1999.  April 28th 2008.

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