Contribution to the OHCHR study on children working and /or living on the street
3 October 2011
Background Street children are not a unified group. They are usually not alone, they have family and peers. The reasons a child may be living and working on the street can vary. It could be a combination of family and community stressors, such as the absence of a parent or parents and other adult relatives; economic problems such as poverty, unemployment and homelessness. Some children may be living and working in the street all the time, others may work in the street but return to their families at night. It could be from their own agency and choice. They may have migrated or immigrated. They face risks such as abuse and violence – from parents and peers, from authorities, from those who discriminate against them, and from others who want to exploit them. To consider street children, one must recognize the complexities that are pushing children to the street, as well as the protective and inhibiting factors in the circumstances of street children. Finally, it is important to note that there are differences between children, communities and countries.
Street children have been the focus of growing attention of civil society actors and placed on many country’s agenda. It has long been a matter of concern that in some countries, penal codes have criminalized vagrancy and runaways. Unfortunately, street children have often been the primary victims of this criminalization. As a direct result, many of them have been repeatedly in conflict with the law. Behaviour such as vagrancy and roaming the streets has been dealt with through care, protection or treatment measures by a wide range of child protection actors at international, regional or national levels. However, from experience, these responses alone have proved to be insufficient and the issues require a more holistic approach. UNICEF, in partnership with governments and nongovernmental institutions, has been working to create a more systemic approach that prevents children from ending up in the streets and responds more effectively to those that continue to fall between the cracks.
Historically, analysis and programming in child protection have focused on particular issues or specific groups of vulnerable children. Issues receiving attention in recent years include violence against children, alternative care, children living on the street/outside of homes, justice for children, children affected by armed forces and groups, trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labour and child separation. However, many children are vulnerable to multiple child protection violations. While vertical, issue-focused programming can be very effective in serving the specific cohort of children targeted, it can result in protection gaps, lack of coherent referral systems and insufficient attention to early intervention, family support mechanisms and prevention efforts.
In 2008, UNICEF adopted a new Child Protection Strategy that calls for systemic approaches to change the societal attitudes, customs and practices that protect children’s rights. The strategy builds on the extensive international framework for child protection and on relevant recommendations of the United Nations Secretary-General’s 2006 Study on Violence against Children. In line with the renewed focus on equity, the strategy also emphasizes the accountability of governments to put in place the best possible systems for the protection of all children, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity or religion.