Mobile Youth Work

Background information: street children - street youths

There are street children in almost all regions of the Earth nowadays. Only a few years ago Europeans and Americans treated them exceptionally as phenomenon of developing countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia. Today the existence of Street children in the USA, Canada, European countries as well as in the CIS countries cannot be ignored. Those who want to see them there can find them either in the centres of such cities as New York, Madrid, Bucharest, Naples, Moscow, Cologne, Marseilles and Warsaw, or in their suburbs and slums with lots of many-storied buildings. The term "street child" implies a rather high homogeneity of comparative characteristics, which however cannot be proven by the scientific research. This is true for the indicators, which relate either to life circumstances, cultural milieus and "carriers" that already have the children during their street socialisation, or every singular situation and form of coping with everyday problems in their lives.
The United Nations Children's Fund estimates the amount of Street children in the world between 80 and 100 millions (UNICEF Germany 1992). This category includes young people up to the age of 18, for whom the street in its broadest meaning of the word, has become the central living point and who therefore get no substantial protection. In this context the term "Street" means also abandoned and half-destroyed buildings or apartments. According to UNICEF, about 40 million of street children out of these 80 millions street children worldwide live in the cities of Latin America. The others are mainly spread in Asia and Africa. A relatively small amount can be found in the USA and in Europe. Although the issue of street children is being discussed almost all over the world, there is no generally accepted definition of this social problem. How can this phenomenon be approached? I suggest using a definition, which has been developed in the course of practical work. Long-term experiences in the Mobile Youth Work concerning excluded children and young people, for whom the street was or still is the most important socialisation place, prove that following of a definition, which is mainly applied for the situation in Europe, should be striven for.
In 1994 a study group of the Council of Europe is Strasbourg published: "Street children are children under 18 years old, who have lived in street milieu for a longer or a shorter period of time. These children move from one place to another and have their group of peers or other contacts on the streets. Officially, their address is registered either at their parents` house or at a social facility (orphanage, help for the bringing up of children, youth psychiatry). The most important hereby is the fact, that people who are responsible for them, such as grown-ups, parents, representatives of schools and social workers, have little or even no contact with their target group" (Council of Europe 1994: 23)
If this definition is being followed, it means that the division between children (in Germany under 14 years old) and youths (14-18 years old) is annihilated. This legitimately grounded differentiation does not reflect the real situations, which are faced by the young people. Further more, this definition makes it clear, that there are people, responsible for the fact that young people live on the streets. However, they are either not able or don't want to fulfil their tasks. As a conclusion, it can be said that a new approach towards organisation of help proposals for street children in unprotected street space should be developed. Generally, it can be said that street children are desperately looking for such solutions of their life problems as drug consume, burglary, prostitution, drug trafficking, and violence. Their previous experiences base on exclusion, indifference, violence, exploitation and seducement. Lots of street children have to do hard and unpaid work.
Cliques and street gangs often replace families, they become the place where children can turn to and hide at in their difficult situations. Only there they get the necessary safety and protection, which has been missing in their lives so far. So the children live either alone or in cliques and gangs. Often they have been hungering since their birth and have bad health. They lack education, protection, devotion, security and love. For lots of children and youths the street fulfils the function of a living and working place at the same time. Practically without any support of the grown-ups they have to fight for their survival every day. This is true for children and youths who have occasional contacts with their families, as well as for those who have been completely abandoned. "When they wake up in the morning, they do not know, what they will eat for the next meal, or whether there will be one. In their everyday life they have to accept everything as it is, no matter how bad it is. They cannot plan their future, or delay their plans... Sometimes they don't know where they come from and where they go to" (Agnelli 1986:32).
However, after experienced misery and violence in their families, the life on the streets is to some extend even a relief and becomes in a while something like "normality". Still, it should not be misunderstood and taken for a happily and voluntarily chosen alternative, as it might be presented in some romantic childish visions. The quality of experience on the streets exhibits a peculiar subcultural space. The life on the streets, if treated as a place, where something happens, with its excitement and action, can even fascinate. The existence on the streets without protection by the family or by others disposes the si- multaneous violation of all basic human rights: a right for food, shelter, health, education and freedom. The main difficulty hereby is the fact, that no single cause can be distinguished.
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