14 March 2011: If we spent one second naming all the street children in the world it would take more than 3 years to name them all. The number of children living and working on the streets worldwide is now estimated at over 100 million, according to the UN Human Rights office. These street children are first and foremost working children and most are victims of trafficking, physical and sexual abuse and crimes.
It is likely that the numbers are increasing as the global population grows and as urbanisation continues. In practice, every city in the world has some street children, including the biggest and richest cities of the industrialised world. Most street children are not orphans and many are still in contact with their families and work on the streets to augment the household income. Numerous others have run away from home, often in response to psychological, physical or sexual abuse. The majority are male, as girls seem to endure abusive or exploitative situations at home for longer - though once they do leave their home and family, girls are generally less likely to return. Once on the street, children become vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse and their daily lives are likely to be far removed from the childhood normally envisioned.
On 9th March 2011, the Human Rights Council concluded its annual day of discussion on the rights of the child with a panel focusing on prevention strategies and responses to the conditions of children living and or working in the street. The panellists speaking in the discussion were Ms Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on violence against children; Mr Abdul Khalique Shaikh, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Sindh, Pakistan; Mr Marco Antonio da Silva Souza, Director, Proyecto Menimos e Meninas da Rua, Brazil; Ms Theresa Kilbane, Senior Adviser, Child Protection Unit, UNICEF; and Mr Kari Tapiola, Special Advisor to the Director General, International Labour Organization.
In introducing the discussion, Ms Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office of the High Commissioner placed great importance on the annual discussion on the protection and promotion of the rights of children working and or living on the street. These children experienced deprivation of some of their most fundamental rights, including the rights to education, health, food, physical integrity and the right to life. It was clear that there was an urgent need for more reliable and systematic data collection and research on children in street situations, and a need to apply a gender sensitive approach to protecting them. Children living and begging in the streets should not be treated as delinquents or criminals, but instead they should be provided with preventive and rehabilitative services, such as for physical and sexual abuse, to which they were all too commonly vulnerable.
During the discussion, Mr Tapiola pointed out that street children were exposed to forced prostitution and begging, used in the drug trade and other work that harmed the health, safety or morals of children and there was a high degree of danger that children were seen as part of criminal activity rather than as victims of criminal activity. In 2010, the international community pledged itself to the global elimination of all the worst forms of child labour by 2016 and this would not be achieved without addressing the issue of street children.
Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labour, urged governments and civil society to take greater, more immediate action to ensure that the hardest to reach children, including street children, do not fall through the cracks of development-related programmes. “We need to ensure that children are protected from abuse and exploitation,” he said. “This must be a priority concern for all, and those who violate children and their rights must be brought to justice. With the world recovering from grave economic crisis, we need to ensure that all children are protected and provided free and quality education and we must keep the promises we have made to the children.”