A street is no place for a child to call 'home'.

But it is estimated that there are over 100 million street children in the world.

Why do children end up on the streets?

Children end up on the streets for a mixture of reasons, though poverty is usually at the heart of the problem. In the countries where we work, conflict and poverty combine to force children onto the streets. In many cases a child's family can no longer afford to care for them properly or may need their help to supplement the family income and help put food on the table.

Or it could be that a child's parents have been killed by conflict or HIV/AIDS, or they may have become separated when they were forced to flee their homes. In parts of Congo and Uganda, families and communities sometimes accuse children of being witches and for bringing bad luck upon them. In Afghanistan girls may end up on the streets after they have been forced to leave home for commiting 'honour crimes' like adultery (i.e. being raped or sexually abused) or refusing an arranged marriage. Boys may end up on the street to help support their parent's opium addiction.

Some children spend the daytime on the streets (to beg or to work) but return to their families at night. For others, the streets are their home and they have nowhere else to go.

What do they do on the streets?

Life on the streets is a dangerous, harsh existence and most street children become extraordinarily resilient and inventive in order to simply survive. On the streets they may earn money in a number of ways including:

  • Begging.
  • Shoe shining, collecting rubbish for recycling, other menial tasks.
  • Many girls are forced into prostitution or sex work in order to survive and are extremely vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Drug abuse is a problem for many street children - it's often the only way of escaping a horrific existence - if only for a few hours. Many street kids are the victims of violence - with the police often acting as perpetrators rather than protectors.

What is War Child doing?

Because the root causes of the problem are so complex, it's not simply a case of finding children on the streets and sending them home to their families. Many left their families in the first place because of abuse or because their family weren't able to provide for them. Without addressing these problems, the children would almost certainly just end up on the streets again sooner rather than later.

Where it is deemed that the child's home is the best place for them, we'll help their family earn a decent income so they are better able to provide for their kids.

In some cases (e.g. those relating to abuse, witchcraft, honour crimes etc) a child's family home may not be the safest and most appropriate environment for them to return to. In that case we help to provide the children with the life skills, education and training that can enable them to be self-sufficient and earn an income of their own.

Although life on the streets is tough, the only realistic solution is often to help keep them safe whilst they're there and giving them or their families the skills to earn a decent income.

In Kinshasa our Night Ambulance patches up street kids in one of the roughest neighbourhoods, and our drop-in centre is a safe haven for girls who are forced to make a living through prostitution.

Our new project in the Central African Republic will be helping street kids in the capital Bangui.

We run a drop-in centre in Afghanistan where many children work on the streets due to the extreme poverty at home.

'For a girl like Bernadette arriving on the streets of Kinshasa, her ‘initiation’ is only a matter of time...'

Find out what happened to her...