Riccardo Lucchini and Daniel Stoecklin’s work on children in street situations is almost a paradigm shift in how we understand these children. Building on the work of scholars Lewis Aptekar, Lucchini pioneered the idea that street children should not be seen merely as victims or delinquents, but rather as individuals with multiple identities whose survival skills are valuable for later transitions.
The concept of these children having ‘careers’ on the street underscores the idea that the ‘career experiences’ can be transferred to other fields, especially when trying to reintegrate them into broader society. For example:
* Resilience and resourcefulness developed while surviving the street have the potential to help them later in education and vocational training.
* Ability to adapt to different social groups can be an asset in community-based programs.
In this series on street careers, I will focus on the conceptual building blocks of the ‘street career’. Empirical studies have not been done to test these concepts. However, I believe conceptual understanding will help shedding light on certain elements of street life that will help fill the inferential gaps, leading to a theory. The theory, then, can be tested using empirical methods.
None of the concepts here are my own, and this is not meant to be a scholarly article. I have drawn from the scholarly works of Daniel Stoecklin, Riccardo Lucchini, Addisu Birhanu and Lewis Aptekar. I only aim to summarize their examinations in a way that would be helpful to non-scholarly readers who are interested.
We begin at the end. When a street-dweller child finally leaves the street, it marks the end of a period. Referring this period to be the ‘street career’ is helpful in examining the stages a child goes through in his or her life on the streets.
The question of leaving the street can be put from a theoretical and empirical point of view. How to define an exit, but also how to empirically verify it?
The definition of the stages is no easy task. Definitions in social sciences, unlike pure sciences, are always limited to the definer’s view. If we assume there is a stage, then we must also infer that for that stage it is necessary to locate an event that marks the person’s preceding stage.
For example: A child is now alternating between the street and home as such that he sleeps at home, but the street has become the alternative home for his waking hours. So, this stage can be referred to as Alternation Stage, following a Distance-from-home stage.
There can often be a clear rupture between two successive stages. The progression of the stages is the passage throughout the street career. However, this ‘career’ is rarely linear, not to mention the back-and-forth between two stages before finally progressing to the next stage.
A rough schematic of stages
Now what may introduce ruptures between two stages? Children in street situations may change their reference group. For example, they will loosen their association with their peers who see the street as playground and start associating with new peers who uses the street for income-generating activities. In the next article, I will illustrate a few more concepts to understand the nature of the stages a little bit better.
A Little Digression
These income-generating activities often involve exploitative labour in the informal sectors, trading activities (buying and selling newspapers, flowers, holy souvenirs), or most commonly, begging. Begging, here, may be the most creative career undertaking for the child, since this activity teaches them survival skills and adaptability, not to mention, their acting skills. Their survival knowhow is acknowledged during intervention programs, but it is not valued. Their resourcefulness is seen as something close to delinquency, it is also associated with character deficiencies. The first of these deficiencies is the inability to postpone gratification. They are seen as presentists because they are solely oriented towards the present and immediate rewards. These ‘deficiencies’ are perfectly adapted to their world; they obey cultural logics.