Why International Day for Street Children January 31 Definition

International Day for Street Children 2017

Street children is a term for children experiencing homelessness who are living on the streets of a city, town, or village. Homeless youth are often called street kids and street youth; the definition of street children is contested, but many practitioners and policymakers use UNICEF’s concept of boys and girls, aged under 18 years, for whom "the street" (including unoccupied dwellings and wasteland) has become home and/or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised.

Street girls are sometimes called gamines, a term that is also used for Colombian street children of either sex.

Some street children, notably in more developed nations, are part of a subcategory called thrownaway children who are children that have been forced to leave home. Thrown-away children are more likely to come from single-parent homes.Street children are often subject to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or, in extreme cases, murder by "clean-up squads" that have been hired by local businesses or police. In Western societies, such children are treated as homeless children rather than criminals or beggars.

This year’s theme was Identity, linking the event with our recent Research Conference. We are looking at street children’s identities in terms of the difficulties these children and young people have when trying to get identity documents and how this leads to them not being able to access key services such as education and healthcare or to harassment by the police, but also in terms of how street children define their own identities, how they see themselves and also how societies in general perceive them.


Children sleeping in Mulberry Street, New York City, 1890 (Jacob Riis photo)
The phenomenon of street children has been documented as far back as 1848. Alan Ball, in the introduction to his book on the history of abandoned children, And Now My Soul Is Hardened: Abandoned Children in Soviet Russia, 1918–1930, states:

Orphaned and abandoned children have been a source of misery from earliest times. They apparently accounted for most of the boy prostitutes in Augustan Rome and, a few centuries later, moved a church council of 442 in southern Gaul to declare: "Concerning abandoned children: there is general complaint that they are nowadays exposed more to dogs than to kindness." In Tsarist Russia, seventeenth-century sources described destitute youths roaming the streets, and the phenomenon survived every attempt at eradication thereafter.

In 1848, Lord Ashley referred to more than 30,000 "naked, filthy, roaming lawless, and deserted children" in and around London, UK. By 1922, there were at least seven million homeless children in Russia due to the devastation from World War I and the Russian Civil War. Abandoned children formed gangs, created their own argot, and engaged in petty theft and prostitution.

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