3.9 Resilience-based mental health intervention for street children in developing countries

“Street children” are an underprivileged group that is visible in public places of urban areas in developing countries. These children engage in informal economic activities to make a living for themselves and their families. They are found in every corner of the globe, but are more visible in developing countries in Africa, South Asia, and parts of Latin America (Thomas de Benítez, 2011). There is debate about the size of this population, with estimates ranging anywhere between several million and 100 million. Part of the difficulty in determining the exact number is the lack of a universally accepted definition of street children1 (Thomas de Benítez, 2011). 

These challenges aside, the question remains: Why do these children leave their homes for the complex hardships of street life? Research from developing countries tends to view children’s movement to the street through two lenses: poverty and family dysfunction. Chronic poverty often creates unbearable conditions at home for young children and exerts pressure on family members to find economic means for survival (Ballet, Bhukuth, & Radja, 2013). In this situation, children migrate to the streets voluntarily or involuntarily to support their families. From the family dysfunction perspective, family environments that feature conflict, violence, abandonment, and authoritarian behaviour weaken or disintegrate ties among family members, prompting the child’s eventual departure from the home (Ballet et al., 2013). Moreover, population growth, urbanization, war, and HIV epidemics affect the stability of economic and social institutions in developing countries; when these institutions are unstable, families and individuals migrate to urban centres that are themselves economically depressed and thus offer limited opportunities. Some families disintegrate under these conditions and children are forced to take to the streets for survival (Kombarakaran, 2004). 

Sean Kidd, Natasha Slesnick, Tyler Frederick, Jeff Karabanow, Stephen Gaetz
Publication Date: 
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press