If we imagine a line that connects the points of a child’s progression from home to the streets and then to the exit, we can call this line the child’s biographical line. Imagining this line is important since significant alterations of this line prompt an exit, or at least the starting point of an exit, from the streets.
Example of a possible rupture
Identifying ruptures can help distinguish stages of a group of children before applying the same treatment to all members of the target group. Unfortunately, most NGO interventions ignore this nuance.
Victimization: Being a victim of police and adult violence, or an isolated attack by other children.
Expulsion from Home: Being forced to leave home due to domestic violence, death of a parent, or economic predicaments.
New Peers: Imitation by friends already familiar with street life, exposing themselves to street situations.
Alternating Street Experience: Experiencing the street as neither good nor bad. The experiences can both positively reinforce: prolong stays in the streets; or negatively reinforce: going back home.
Routine Returns Home: Some children routinely return home as a part of their survival strategy, sustaining life on the streets instead of ending them.
Seeking Adventure: Children may visit the street for limited periods for adventure, loitering, or other activities, viewing the street as a supplementary space rather than a permanent home.
Personal Anchors: Positive role models, too, can help introduce a rupture in the biographical line. For example, take a social worker or a solvent street vendor whom the child admires. This person does not live on the streets and does not appreciate the child living there.
Having a quantified measurement of the strength of these ruptures and what amount of strength can lead to the following or preceding stage would’ve been very convenient for designing theories of change. However, children rarely attribute similar meaning to the experiences that we have named ruptures.
Conceptual Tool: Street Relationship What is their relationship with the street? We can again conceptualize different ‘types’ of relationship a child has to the street. For example:
Visitor children (Does not live on the Streets): Resides periodically on the street for recreational or remunerative purposes.
Alternating children (Lives both at Home and the Streets): Oscillates between the street and their home for living. For example, the child scavenges the streets during the day and sleeps at home during the night.
Street as home (Lives on the Streets): Relies solely on the street for all the business of living.
Conceptual Tool: Exit Prompts
What factors ultimately decide whether a child, no matter which stage of street life they are in, will leave the street permanently. Here are a few:
Dependency on Street Life
The street has to lose its purpose as a means for survival. The utility of scavenging the street will have to appear no longer sustainable. For example, a child used to begging or petty theft will find his profession increasingly difficult as he ages. The protective factors of the face, voice, and other symbolic resources wear out as they enter teenagerhood. The street starts to become increasingly hostile, and the dynamics that worked before may become clogged. The child, then, starts finding other means of survival, which necessitates a decreasing dependency on street life.
Encounters and Events
An event can be viewed as a sequence of actions and their consequences. For example, a child undergoes an identity change due to a new peer group in a literacy school. He or she slowly integrates into a new institution. Attending the literacy school was the action, the slow integration was sequential, and the consequence was the identity change.
If the subjective strength of the event (as attributed by the child) surpasses the strength of his or her dependency on the street, the event may lead to the next stage.
Complexity and a bit of Hope:
Every child will attribute different meanings to experiences we are calling ruptures. This is crucial when we are busy looking down the microscope and planning clever theories of change. What, then, determines what kind of meaning the child will give to these disruptions? Every factor, affective, social, physical and identity will play a role here.
Sometimes, local actors who assist these children with charitable intentions possess uncanny knowledge about what event may affect what dimensions, if only they were aware of the concepts we've conjured up here. The two polarities - top-down theorists and bottom-up observers - hold incredible promise in understanding these children if they collaborated.
If you want to share your ideas on Children in Street Situations and relevant topics, reach out to us