Invisible Children

Street-connected Children


Children scavenging the garbage dumps of Kabul, Tegucigalpa and Cape Town are part of a virtual army of street-connected children.[1]  An estimated 100 million children worldwide either work or live on the streets, and many of these survive by grabbing what they can through begging, performing for coins, shoe-shining, rag-picking, stealing, black market trading, selling themselves, or any means their creativity allows.[i]  Again, high-income countries are not immune from such despair:  in the United States, 1.6 million young people, including infants, children and teenagers, live on the streets, in transient hotels, or in their cars.[ii]  A young boy in Hong Kong living in a rooftop metal cage is one of 400,000 people who live similarly in one of the world’s wealthiest cities.[iii]

In India, as many as 8,000 children forage through tons of garbage daily in Delhi, looking for recyclables.  Most of them do not go to school because they do not have birth certificates.  They work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions to earn a few dollars a day to support their families.  The few that do attend classes spend their days or nights picking waste.[iv]

In Nicaragua, entire communities form around dumps.  Children make games out of dodging the garbage delivery trucks or jumping onto the donkeys that bring carts with trash from lower resource areas.  Families live in makeshift houses built from plastic tarps and old cans.  Respiratory illness, tuberculosis and skin diseases fueled by toxic chemicals are rampant.  Escape comes in various forms, including prostitution, heroin, glue-sniffing and homemade liquor.  Garbage dumps are an invisible, uncounted, dead end, especially for the children challenged to find some meaning and hope within the squalor.[v]

In Haiti, the garbage dumps provide a home to hundreds of children who spend their days scavenging for cans, cardboard, and food.  At night they take whatever shelter they can build for themselves.  The children suffer skin diseases, respiratory infections, and food poisoning.  Occasionally a garbage truck making a delivery will crush a sleeping child, hidden from obvious view by his makeshift, dump-born shelter.[vi]

In Vietnam, more than 120,000 children, mostly migrants from the rural provinces who have come with their families to look for a better life in the urban centers, live on the streets.  The number is rising.  These children survive by scavenging, shining shoes, selling pirated goods on the street, begging, pick pocketing and other forms of thieving.  In large measure because of this influx of street children, Vietnam has seen an increase in gang involvement, drug use, sexual assault, and labor exploitation among those under 18.[vii]


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[1] In a definition provided by Sarah Thomas de Benitez for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a street-connected child is “a child for whom the street is a central reference point – one which plays a significant role in his/her everyday life and identity.”  This term is used as an alternative to street children.
[i] The Consortium for Street Children: http://streetchildren.org/about/street-children/; and Sarah Thomas de Benitez, email message to Maya Ajmera and Clare Dreyfus, July 13, 2014
[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/young-and-homeless.html
[iii] Hoa Duong Piyaka, Global Fund for Children, “In Cage Homes, Hong Kong Children Learn to Survive,” On the Road Blog, January 19, 2011, https://www.globalfundforchildren.org/in-cage-homes-hong-kong-children-learn-to-survive/
[iv] Amy Kazmin, “Help at hand for New Delhi waste-pickers,” Financial Times, December 3, 2012.  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2696cec8-3d5d-11e2-b8b2-00144feabdc0.html#axzz37Qs46d9p
[v] Victoria Dunning, Global Fund for Children, “Life in the Dumps,” On the Road Blog, January 23, 2009, https://www.globalfundforchildren.org/life-in-the-dumps/
[vi] Shawn Malone, Global Fund for Children, “Life in the Dumps,” On the Road Blog, February, 2007; and http://www.unmultimedia.org/s/photo/detail/407/0407767.html;  and http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/07/10603899-haitis-less-fortunate-scavenge-landfills-for-useful-goods
[vii] Hoa Duong Piyaka, Global Fund for Children, “Youth Entrepreneurship Takes Shape in Vietnam,” On the Road Blog, June 9, 2010, https://www.globalfundforchildren.org/youth-entrepreneurship-takes-shape-in-vietnam/

Demographics of Invisibility

"Invisibility is a lack of hope, a lack of opportunity, and the inability to access the basic elements that define a safe, productive life, including education, health care, housing, food, clean water, sanitation, and security."  - Invisible Children