How Do Children Become Street Children?

Children belong to the family which makes the community. However, they are the most vulnerable members in terms of a political, social, and economic crisis at family, community, and state level. They cannot defend themselves as adults do; hence, coping with such situations becomes hard. Most of them opt to go to streets, thus the name street children. People identify them in many ways, including those children who beg for food, money in the streets of towns and cities. They dress in rags or oversized cloths and they are dirty with many bruises on their face and body because they commonly engage in fights with others when they struggle to obtain food or something else. Some street girls have their own babies and other babies do not have their mothers. They sleep on streets on bare floors or on pieces of cardboards and tattered blankets. They may ask people for simple jobs like cleaning cars, carrying loads, and cleaning and collecting litter so that they can get money to buy food. People believe that most of them are orphans and homeless.

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Governmental and non-governmental organizations have failed to estimate the number of children in the streets. Studies show that it is difficult to attain an exact number of street children in a city or country because some street children keep on moving from one place to another. Also, sometimes they are in the street, but sometimes they are at their homes. Street children do not have birth certificates; hence, it is difficult to calculate their number. However, most organizations and individuals believe that extensive research has not been carried out to estimate their number because of the lack of resources and people to carry out the research. It would prove that their number increases day by day.

However, what exactly does a street child mean? A street child has no clear definition because people have their own definition and agreeing on one definition is difficult. This is according to sociologists and psychologists. They offer various identification criteria and people see such children as abnormal and marginalized. Street children identify the street as a place where they can get work and obtain money for survival. For others it is a home where they live with other children whom they treat like a family. Therefore, they are loved by fellow street children and are hated by them as well, which leads to frequent fights, but that is their life and they understand it. This paper will help understand and clearly define the notion of street children. The paper looks at the notion of street children, how they become street children, problems they face, and ways to help them.

Many researchers have shown that every street child has his/her own story on how he/she became a street child. They vary from one child to another, but all lead to the same situation, i.e. becoming a street child. There are three types of street children: there are children who run away from home and live in the street; children working in the street most of their time, but finally going to their homes; and, finally, children who are born in the street by street children and live there with their family consisting of either mother, father or both. This classification helps us tackle the reasons why many children become street children.

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According to interviews conducted in the streets of Cairo, the reasons found may include the following:

  • Family/Parental abuse

3 out of 10 street children interviewed were there because of parental abuse. Children are born into a family with both parents. The abuse comes in when one or both parents hate the child because the mother or father is dead and a step parent physically beats the child. The child is unable to cope with hatred and many sufferings and opts to run away, ending up in the street. In the street, the child gets a sense of belonging and love from other children, hence making a street a home away from home.

  • Child labor

Living standards of many families are low because of the poor economy. Studies show that most parents cannot meet the needs of the family like food, education, medicine, shelter because they have low incomes, making life hard and opting for support from children. Therefore, they send their children to sell things like tissue paper, cheap stuffs, carry loads, clean cars in order to get money. Others beg for money to buy food or assist their family. Most street children confessed that they decided to stay there and never to return home because they saw it as a punishment. They work and keep the money for themselves. Hence, they become street children who work to survive. 30% of street children in Egypt have emerged in the result of supporting the family through work.

  • Sexual harassment by family members

Children, especially girls, are exposed to many problems in the society like rape and incest. They are not protected from other family members like step fathers, uncles, step brothers,. This results in incest, which is a taboo in most cultures. Members of the community molested and harassed them. This made them feel that they are not protected and they decided to protect themselves by going to the street. 40% of girls in the street had been raped, molested, and harassed by family members and the community.

  • Homelessness

Some families do not have homes, especially if there are clashes and the house is burnt down. War and natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and landslides leave many people homeless and they feel that the only place they can run to is the street. 1% of street children said that they had no place to stay.

  • Poverty

Some children may not survive without food. Thus, they run to towns and cities to beg for food or work to buy food and anything they want. Poverty means that the child cannot get satisfaction and begging may be the only option.

  • Parental divorce

When family relations have broken, the member affected most is the child. They cannot stay with the father because he might marry another woman and hate the child or the mother may get married and step father would abuse the child. Thus, they opt to stay alone, which is difficult. Finally, they run to streets for comfort and have a sense of belonging. 24% of those who join institutional care are from broken families.

  • Neglect

Neglect from parents or other siblings makes children run because they are not comfortable in the family. Negligence contributes to effects like physical abuse and sexual harassment. Thus, they prevent such consequences by running away. Parents who are drug addicts fail to provide for their family. Social interaction is absent, especially when parents are drug addicts or busy with work. Therefore, children feel that they are ignored and neglected, hence running to streets to have a sense of belonging by being loved by others. 32% reported the lack of love and care from parents and other family members.

  • Migration from rural to urban areas

Houses in urban centers are small and have poor conditions. Rooms cannot accommodate all family members; thus, children go to street to work and earn money and this eventually leads to living in the street.

  • Failure at school

When children fail at school, they may be beaten by parents and this causes education stress in the life of the child. Dropping out of school becomes an option and if they cannot stay in the village, they go to towns to look for work, ending up in the street.

  • Loss of parents

Parents may die due to suffering from diseases like HIV, natural disasters like floods, landslide, or war and other conflicts. This makes children support themselves, which they do by working in the streets.

Studies show that each and every street child feels that street is the home and he/she owns that space. They have rules and regulations, which they follow even though they do not follow the state laws. They seek to be accepted by other street children and care how they feel about them, but they do not care what other people feel about them. They have organized groups and each area in the street has a leader who supports others. The leaders do not head criminal activities rather they give drugs, protection, and any help to other street children and are given money or sex in exchange. They have powers over space and general survival, so others must obey them.

What Does Street Child Mean for Us?

Anybody seen clothed in rags, dirty, and living in the street is automatically deemed a street child. People see them as criminals, beggars, victims who need to be eliminated from the streets. People believe that only poor children from poor backgrounds are the ones who become street children. However, this is not enough for categorizing and labeling them. Most social workers and non-governmental organizations give stories so that people may sympathize with such children. Street children do not want pity, but rather they want basic children rights like right to education, right to be taken care of, right to be provided with basic needs and emotional needs (Mikhail, 2013).

Street children are stubborn, aggressive, selfish, with unstable emotional behaviors, abusive, rebellious, they lack trust, and they may not concentrate on any duty given. This is because of the environment they stay in has harsh conditions, under which they struggle to survive. They mature early and have tactics of self-reliance because they know how to survive by begging, working, or selling their bodies to get money. They believe that security is self-defense and personal protection. They are able to form subcultures like gangs, prostitutes, which goes against society’s expectations. Therefore, they are very rebellious to the society’s laws and ignore societal patterns and systems.

Problems that Face Street Children in Egypt

Street children face many problems, which affect their physical and psychological health and general safety. The research shows that the surrounding environment, fellow street children, police, and many other factors cause problems to street children.

The problems include:

  1. Physical harassment like being beaten by passerby, police officers, fellow street children due to the lack of cooperation with their leaders.
  2. Verbal abuse, which makes them remember the past and what made them become street children.
  3. Sexual abuse because some are forced to have sex without consent, others may agree to sex, but they are not paid for it; this causes psychological and health problems.
  4. Economic exploitation because they are forced to work long hours with low wages. For instance, they clean cars and trucks till night and receive little or no pay at all.
  5. Safety issues like accidents, cars running over them, somebody mistaking them for loads.
  6. Lack of education
  7. Risks of drug use, trafficking, and distribution.
  8. They engage in gang activities like robbery, fraudulent activities, damage of public and private properties, and murder.
  9. Harsh climatic conditions like cold, rain, wind, hot conditions that increase amount of dust. This exposes them to many health problems, which they may not be able to treat.

Consequences of the Problems of Street Children in Egypt


Many street children die in the result of accidents, physical abuse, and illnesses. They may be beaten by fellow street children till they are helpless. In case they engage in gang activities like robbery, they are shot dead. They suffer from various diseases such as anemia, headaches, diarrhea, and many others, which they do not have care and medicine to treat. They may die from attempted abortion as a result of unplanned pregnancies.


By having sex without protection, they are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, which are expensive to cure. Hygiene-related diseases like lice and general body cleanliness contribute to many illnesses. They do not have a balanced diet; food is dirty because it is taken from garbage, making them feel ill.

Police arrests and imprisonment:

Some street children are hired by activists and protestors to protest on the streets. They are arrested by the police and are taken to court where they are jailed or taken to correction centers, which abuse them physically, psychologically, and sexually.

Early pregnancies:

Both sex at will and sex without will may cause unplanned pregnancies that lead to a burden of caring for and raising street-born children. Street mothers may not be able to take care of their babies, which may lead to deaths of young babies. If abortion is attempted, the life is endangered and such an attempt may lead to death.

Drug abuse:

Use of drugs is rampant, especially smoking, taking glue and other drugs, which they combine with many substances. This is because they can easily obtain them from dealers whom they pay with sex or money. They take drugs to cope with street life, sleep easily, relieve themselves from pain and hunger, and fit into the group to which they belong. This is dangerous for their health and health of others within the group.


They do not want to obey any person and any authority except for their leader in the street. They do not trust anybody; so, they tend to rebel against any action of the community and social organizations. This leads to formation of rebellious groups that engage in criminal activities against the society’s norms.

What Has the NGO and Other Organizations Done to the Street Children until Now in Egypt?

Some of the non-governmental organizations that work to help street children and their families include CARITAS Egypt, Al-Amal village, the General Egyptian Association for Child Protection, and Toufolti Association. Hope Village Society (HVS) has partnered with Cairo Street Children Development Cooperation Project to provide shelter to young street mothers and other street children through provision of mobile clinics and day centers. They may work alone or partner with governmental organizations or other NGOs like the UNICEF to help street children. They may fund themselves and also receive financial aid from countries like the US, the UK, and many others.

The government has arranged various recreational programs that include street children into various tournaments. This prevents from activists and protestors using children in unworthy activities by paying them little and letting them be arrested and imprisoned. Egypt has organized soccer competitions that encourage street children to participate in the World Cup. The main purpose of this is to rehabilitate them and cultivate a decent future for children. They may encourage them to join school or start business like Youssef. For instance, there is a 10-day tournament that includes 230 street children. Such activists help children obtain birth certificates, passports, and visas and meet with many people. 19 countries are participating in the tournament in Rio de Janeiro this week, according to The National News. Teams, which comprise of 9 street children, a coach, and many social workers, play a major role in helping reduce the number of street children.

The government and other institutions have trained social workers who work closely with street children and connect them with other members of the society. The NGOs and other government institutions have called for volunteers, social workers, sociologists, and psychologists to work in reception centers, institutional care institutions to help children abandon street life. They have encouraged the community to take up foster roles to take care of children deprived of it like orphans and destitute. They have engaged many individuals and organizations in research that come up with strategies to reduce the amount of street children.

Programs have been started to help street children with various needs like educational, recreational, emotional, and psychological ones, which are offered in the drop-in centers. This has helped many children in giving up street life and engaging in sports, joining primary, secondary, or technical training institutions to acquire skills that will help them make a living and fit in the society.

Some organizations have provided residential care like building an orphanage, homes, and hostels to help children move away from street and access basic needs. The government has built residential care nurseries that care for children between 2-6 years until they are transferred to institutional care institutions or are taken by foster families. About 30 care nurseries are said to be built, which has helped around 500 street children. 174 residential care units have been built to provide residential, educational, medical, and recreational services to about 6,000 street children who leave the unit when they are able to support themselves by being equipped with different technical skills (UNODC).

The state through the social affairs ministry has set projects like Rural Woman Project that supports around 40,000 women in 123 villages in generating income (UNODC). They also offer educational programs on reproductive health, parenting, and entrepreneurship. This has transformed many families from being poor to levels when they can support their families, hence avoiding child labor. Also, those productive families have been encouraged to start income-generating projects to support and educate poor families in order to become productive and avoid financial aid. They also help them join self-help groups to benefit from many services given by the NGOs and the government. The ministry has also provided social security services by offering monthly pensions and other financial support programs to poor families. These services are enacted based on the Child Law of 1996. This enables them to educate their children, buy food, and satisfy other needs of their children.

Foster families have been reintroduced to provide care to children who have been deprived of care like orphans and the destitute ones. Foster families support children till a certain age or until their family conditions improve. The government encourages the community to support street children by giving them education, providing street children with food, shelter, and general emotional care, including love and sense of belonging.

Problems affecting street children are directly addressed by the General Social Defense Department suggesting appropriate training programs to suit different needs of street children. Some children need educational programs so that they may become professionals; others need to become self-reliant through starting businesses or finding jobs; and others want to join their families. They also conduct research on the social phenomenon that makes children become street children and take necessary actions by planning the activities. They also conduct follow-ups for children who have graduated from institutional care to see their progress and adaptation to the society.

The NGOs have tackled the issue of motherhood and childhood, though not fully, in their program entitled reconstructing the construct, which targets children and mothers because they are the most affected contributors to a menace. They have also encouraged family reunions, which has reduced the amount of street children.

Future Plans

The government through the Ministry of Social Affairs plans to implement policies and programs that help to control street children. They want to raise family awareness so that they may educate families on reproductive health, proper ways of raising children, technical development skills, and importance of maintaining good family relations. The government plans to combine efforts with the NGOs to do research on the social phenomenon that makes children become street children. After research, they will draft programs to tackle such issues by improving status of poor families and ensuring that parents give birth to a number of children they can support well. They plan to use media and other communication technologies like hotline telephone lines to raise awareness of parenting issues and connecting with children. TVs, radios, and posters may be used to inform parents of their responsibilities. Posters may be used to inform them of any program meeting.

They want to start bureaus to offer guidance and counseling services to families and help them to solve most significant family problems like divorce and breakdowns. Family relations are the major cause of the phenomenon of street children. Therefore, by opening these bureaus and equipping them with competent staff, they will offer advice to families how to avoid breaking the family and taking care of children before they become street children. They will also help to connect children and their families through research on the causes of separation and possible ways to reunite.

The government and other organizations plan to use recreational services like drama and theaters to show people consequences of behavioral disorder and enhance rehabilitation. Through acting on most common social phenomena, people are able to relate the show with their real life and this will encourage them to promote acceptable behaviors in the society. Theaters will provide entertainment and educational benefits to many street children by raising awareness of behavioral disorders like gangs, rebellion, self-defense, drug addiction, their effects, and ways to deal with these problems in order to avoid forming subcultures.

The government and other NGOs plan to train more psychologists, social workers, and sociologists to work closely with street children, the institutional care, reception centers, and other care nurseries. They will participate in the community work to ensure awareness is raised appropriately and looking for the best ways to manage family reunions and projects that are income-generating. They also encourage members of the public to volunteer themselves so that they may help street children.

The government plans to build, upgrade, and equip technical training institutions with machines and equipment for workshops and vocational training in Dar Al-Tarbia in Giza. It offers many training programs like tailoring and embroidery for girls, plumbing, masonry, carpentry, mechanics, and many others for boys (UNODC). However, government workers want to upgrade these centers and equip them with modern equipment and machines like computers, photocopiers, and sewing machines. This will help street children to have skills that will give them a profession or will help them start their businesses to support themselves and their families. They also want to provide a consistent supply of raw materials needed in these workshops like embroidery and tailoring materials, wires, paper, and other required materials used in training.

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The Ministry is planning to develop new and appropriate strategies to help with follow-ups after children leaving street life and residential units. They will help in establishing whether those who graduate from institutional care are able to start their own businesses and if they face any challenges and solve them. Most follow-ups are outdated and inappropriate. Therefore, re-strategizing new methods like checking and ensuring that each graduated child receives tools to start his/her own business and manage career development will help a lot.
For recreation services, the Ministry and other NGOs plan to encourage and equip children with sport materials. This will help in reducing the number of street children being involved in criminal activities, protesting, and other bad behaviors that expose them to various risks. Creation of teams that comprise of street children and participate in local, national, and international tournaments will help street children and reduce the amount of problems they are facing. For instance, soccer, volleyball, athletics, basketball, drama, music are major areas of focus that will keep children off the street and nurture their talent and help to develop career.

Various projects are proposed by the government and the NGOs to help in generating income to poor families. Rural Woman Project has been started, but it needs to be funded so that they may help women in villages because most of them take care of their families after family breakdown, divorce, single motherhood situations. Apart from generating income, they will also receive training on various skills development, parenting, and other guidance and counseling services.

There are plans to combine efforts of the government and the NGOs to support and reduce the number of street children. Working in different areas may not yield desired results. Thus, combining efforts and focusing on one goal will help both the government and the NGOs to succeed in dealing with this phenomenon. They will utilize available resources to carry out the research and analyze the results to develop important policies and procedures in order to help street children and prevent children from preferring street life more than their homes.
Al-Horia, an NGO, has a project to provide emergency services to street children in terms of many risks exposed. Many health problems are not addressed; also, street children face many emergency cases with no help. The NGO will provide street children with emergency service like first aid, ambulance services, and care. In doing so, they may avoid many deaths in the streets. They may save girls from dangerous abortion, sexual abuse, and many accidents.

Effectiveness of the Services Provided to Street Children by Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations

Most of the NGOs have tried to make street children unite with their families. However, it is difficult and ineffective because most children do not want to go back because of the past experience. Hence, they prefer to stay alone or in some place other than their families. Victims of rape, torture, and neglect are hard to reunite. Also, the process requires a comprehensive process of visitation to the family before and after reunion and this may be expensive. The NGO needs to work with government officials like chiefs and village elders for the process to succeed.

Cases of drug abuse have not been effectively tackled. Reception centers reject those under drugs or who are addicts because they believe these people may interrupt programs and make others not attend the trainings. Detoxification services to help those who have used drugs are not available. Hence, drug use needs to be focused on because most street children use drugs and substances for different reasons. Drug awareness is also not effectively done in terms of street children. Hence, there are many risks they are exposed to, including health problems and socio-behavioral disorders.

Raising awareness through the media is not enough. Direct participation is required to collectively campaign against many social vices that tend to influence an increase in the number of street children. Some people may not access information from radios, TVs, or theater shows and drama. Thus, information is not received by intended parties who live in villages. Therefore, the media are not effective in addressing the problems. Research is not effective because those who carry out the research focus only on causes and problems faced by street children instead of involving them in creating policies that will help them to meet their various needs.

When they introduce educational programs for adults and street children, they use ordinary syllabuses, forgetting that these are special cases that require different educational approaches. Special needs require special attention to achieve the desired results. The common syllabuses used by regular schools may not be effective in institutional care centers. Adult programs are outdated and non-influential; thus, less impact is made on adults.

There are many health programs in place to help street children like a doctor visiting children twice or thrice a week. However, they are not effectively carried out because street children do not trust people. They also fear interaction with people because they may be arrested or injected with medicine that may hinder carrying out their street duties. Those with mental issues have not been helped because of ineffective methods used. Most street children beg for food, some buy food from cheap cafes, and others get it from garbage. This exposes them to health problems. Organizations help to acquire food, but it may not be balanced and not meet various nutritional needs of each street child. Therefore, nutritional needs are not effectively tackled.

Child rights and protection are not effectively handled because street children after recovering and returning home suffer from marginalization and stigmatization from other family members and the community. Thus, they are not protected and if they start their own businesses, few people understand and support them. Child rights are not granted to them because they may be expensive for the government and other organizations to provide. Therefore, the Acts are not fully implemented because of the lack of resources.

Solutions to Reduce the Growing Problem of Street Children in Egypt

Many problems faced by street children can be addressed easily by focusing on various aspects of their childhood life. Focusing on their needs will help prevent children from running away from home and focusing on problems faced by street children will help them to move out of street life and engage in the society development through various systems and activities. There are four categories of intervention that can be used to reduce the growing problems of street children. They include: structural-based, community-based, center-based, and street-based interventions.
Structural-based interventions include policies and procedures that are laid down by various organizations targeting street children. They include research done to help reduce the growing number of street children, strategies to help those on the streets get something important to do, acquire a profession, and reunite with families. Many organizations need to offer programs that may benefit these children like creating recreational events that will include street children. Introduction and implementing various Acts, which are in place like child rights and protection through the use of legislative functions of the government, will help decrease the problem.

Community-based interventions involve various projects and programs that educate parents on the benefits of maintaining family relations with their children. Various projects need to be initiated to encourage entrepreneurship and other skills development. This will generate income and help with the provision of basic needs. Also, parenting programs need to be in place so that the responsibility of parents is emphasized, for example, with respect to adequate interaction between a child and a parent in order to avoid negligence and implement a sense of love and belonging in the mind of a child coming from parents, not the street.

Center-based interventions should be developed and implemented in reception centers, institutional care centers, and other places that support children. These centers need to have competent staff with passion to work with street children, rather than for their personal benefit. There should be sociologists, psychologists, social workers who are willing to work closely with such children. They should be well-trained and exposed to field work so as to gain skills and competency on problems affecting street children. They should equip these centers with required facilities to effectively deliver various programs and services to children and the community.

Street-based interventions include various strategies to support children while in the street. For instance, raising awareness of the drug and substance abuse and health problems they are exposed to will yield good results. Involving street children in cleaning the city as a community work, attending cultural events, creating teams for various tournaments and music and drama festivals will help children realize their talent and nurture it. Above all, it will develop a sense of belonging to the family and the community. Food aids, medicine, providing with clothes, and other care services will make it easier to rehabilitate such children.

Street children are not a new phenomenon in the country as they have existed since the 1980s and if the government and the NGOs do not tackle it effectively, there will be a tremendous increase in their number because of the economic, political, and social crisis in the country. Such children may also cause many problems in the whole country. Individual and community perception towards street children must change so as to know exactly who is a street child and ways to prevent children from becoming one in the streets. The responsibilities of each and every person at the family, community, and state level should be emphasized. Parents should be aware of their duties and responsibilities and penalties for failure to respect their duties.

Street children do not have rights, but they have children rights that are stipulated in the Child Rights and Protection Act. Therefore, social workers and those who work with street children should advocate for children rights and not try to make the community sympathize with street children. They should make the community tackle the causes and try to avoid them. Those already in the street should be encouraged to leave the street life by implementing focused programs that emphasize their present and future needs and not their past.

There are some people and groups of people that prevent the government and other NGOs from implementing the important plans concerning street children. The Muslim Brotherhood is said to prevent many NGOs from executing their plans. To avoid these situations, there should be appropriate policies to protect these organizations and heavy penalties should be imposed on those groups that are against such developments.

By combining efforts at the family, community, and organizational levels, many social, economic, and political issues will be solved and families will become a safe place for child growth and development.

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