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Realising street children’s right to education

Published 09/27/2019 By Jess Clark

By: Cynthia Uthayakumar, CSC Research Intern & Lizet Vlamings, CSC Advocacy and Research Manager

The universal right to education has a solid basis in international law and is a key component of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda, centred on leaving no one behind. The goal to get all children, adolescents and youth into education by 2030 has seen rising global enrolment rates reach 82% in 2017, the figure being as high as 91% for primary school aged children. Despite this commendable progress, street children are at risk of being left behind. The numerous societal, practical and health barriers street children face means they are among the millions of the world’s hardest-to-reach children who are unable to attend mainstream schools and face high drop-out rates from formal education programmes.[i]

When data on enrolment rates are gathered, street children not enrolled in school are often not included – as most of the data is gathered through household surveys.[ii] This means they are neither part of the 91% of children in primary school, nor part of the 9% of children not in primary school – they remain invisible altogether.

Education is the key of life: if you do not have education, you are just like nothing” 

– Street child in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Allowing street children to be left behind from efforts improving access to education will only perpetuate their cycle of poverty and the countless human rights violations they face on the streets every day. Providing them with access to education can not only provide safe spaces and security whilst they are on the streets, but also opportunities to move away from the streets and go on to lead happy and healthy adult lives.

It is time to take action to ensure street children no longer remain invisible, and are able to benefit from the efforts towards inclusive and quality education for all. Ensuring they are included in data collection on access to education and progress towards SDG 4 is key in achieving this, as is sharing existing evidence and information on street children’s barriers to education, and best practices in overcoming these barriers. This post highlights some of the key barriers and best practices as collected from the global CSC Network.

Barriers to education for street children

Street children face unique barriers to accessing education that many other children don’t have. Street children are often unable to enrol in formal education due to a lack of legal identification, permanent address or guardian, whilst others who have spent years on the streets are not permitted back in with younger students and struggle to catch up with those their own age. Those who are able to enrol are often faced with marginalisation, stigmatisation and discrimination by their teachers and peers, affecting their wellbeing and performance in class; “at school, we’re told: ‘You don’t belong here’” – street child in Mexico (7-10 years).

The stigmatisation and lack of support within classrooms can cause further harm to already psychologically vulnerable street children who often suffer physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and neglect, sometimes at the hands of those in positions to best protect them such as law enforcement officers.[iii] Abuse, trauma and neglect can have serious, lasting effects on children’s psychological development and health with street children at a disproportionately higher risk of suffering from psychiatric diseases, infectious illnesses and reproductive health issues. These health challenges can negatively implicate street children’s attainment and attendance in schools, indicating the need for an education approach specialised for supporting the psychosocial and health needs of street children.[iv]

“Give us the opportunity to change our story”
– 18-year-old street boy, Rio de Janeiro

Whilst enrolment may be free in many countries, the numerous hidden costs of education such as uniforms and textbooks means that many families and street children simply cannot afford to be in mainstream schools. Moreover, for the many street children who are driven to the streets by poverty, attending schooling would take time away from income generating activities.[v][vi] Whilst no child should have to engage in work that limits their educational opportunities, to stop earning money and attend full-time schooling is simply not realistic for all children, especially when their and their families’ survival depends on it. Many feel proud of their work and feel a sense of duty to contribute to their families.[vii]  As one street child in Accra stated: “I have been supporting my younger siblings who go to school, so if I should be removed from the street my siblings are going to lose their education”.[viii]  Forcing these children to enrol in full-time formal primary or secondary education may therefore not be beneficial, desirable or sustainable. Their realities must be understood and respected when identifying pathways to education for street children. Approaches allowing a combination of education and work can offer a way to ensure street children have access to education whilst continuing to earn money for their survival.

Best practices in realising street children’s right to education

The many unique barriers street children face to accessing education highlights the importance of tailoring education initiatives to their specific needs. Acknowledging their realities is crucial for the development of education programmes that leave no street child behind. The need to develop alternative inclusive models for street children is clear and governments must work collaboratively with NGOs and street children in order for initiatives to be successful and sustainable.

Many members of the global CSC Network have developed innovative and inclusive education programmes that support street children to enjoy their right to education. These initiatives are exemplary of the approach that must be urgently taken to ensure street children are no longer left behind:

  • Mobile School NPO reaches street children where they are with carts on wheels equipped with extendable blackboards, educational materials and trained street workers. By providing education in open accessible spaces in which street children feel safe and accepted, Mobile School NPO is ensuring the children are empowered and self-confident whilst learning.
  • S.A.L.V.E. International encourages learning through creative play, showing that street children feel motivated and encouraged, as well as develop a love for education. Creative play also allows the teacher and child to build a stronger relationship through which children feel confident and supported.
  • Education can equip street children to break out of the cycle of poverty and lead happy healthy lives as adults, and in recognising this, Bahay Tuluyan’s Independent Living Skills Program supports children in the Philippines to access on-the-job training and learn entrepreneurial skills to transition into formal employment, as well as sponsoring tertiary education.
  • In order to ensure retention, Child In Need Institute (CINI) provides after-school coaching support to vulnerable children in India’s slums as well as specialised education packages to bridge children’s learning gaps in ways adapted for their individuality and variations in needs.
  • It is important that initiatives do not engage solely with street children but also with schools, parents and the wider community as CHETNA does in India. CHETNA works closely with parents, counselling and encouraging them to participate in their child’s education and supporting them with obstacles they may face in sending their child to school. Meanwhile, Save the Children India works with teachers, training them to use child-friendly and interactive teaching methods, ensuring learning is engaging and fun.
  • CESIP provides a variety of learning activities for street-based, working children and adolescents through a mobile development centre called ‘Centro de Desarrollo Integral del Niño, Niña y Adolescentes’ (CDINA) in Peru. The mobile CDINA is installed in public spaces around supply markets where children and adolescents work. Parents, guardians, family members and the community at large see this as a safe learning and recreation space for working children and adolescents, and accept their participation, even if it means they work less.

These initiatives are just some of the approaches that organisations and teams around the world have been implementing in order to ensure street children are included in global education progress. These promising initiatives are not only successful, but sustainable and scalable and with collaborative support and effort, we can ensure that street children are no longer being left behind.

Are you implementing innovative programmes to help street children access an education or want to know more how you can contribute to realising education for all street children? Send us a message at info@streetchildren.org.

[i] Natalie Turgut, ‘The Protection and Promotion of Human Rights for Street-Connected Children: Legal, Policy and Practical Strategies for Change’, Briefing Paper (Consortium for Street Children, 2017), https://www.streetchildren.org/resources/cscs-briefing-paper-2017-the-protection-and-promotion-of-human-rights-for-street-connected-children-legal-policy-and-practical-strategies-for-change/.

[ii] UNESCO, ed., ‘Meeting Commitments. Are Countries on Track to Achieve SDG4?’ (Springer Publishing Company, June 2017), https://doi.org/10.1891/9780826190123.0015.

[iii] Sarah Thomas de Benítez, ‘State of the World’s Street Children: Violence’ (London: Consortium for Street Children, 2007).

[iv] Jessica Woan, Jessica Lin, and Colette Auerswald, ‘The Health Status of Street Children and Youth in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review of the Literature’, Journal of Adolescent Health 53, no. 3 (September 2013): 314-321.e12, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.03.013.

[v] L. Veloso, ‘Child Street Labor in Brazil: Licit and Illicit Economies in the Eyes of Marginalized Youth’, South Atlantic Quarterly 111, no. 4 (1 October 2012): 663–79, https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-1724129.

[vi] Lonnie Embleton et al., ‘Causes of Child and Youth Homelessness in Developed and Developing Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, JAMA Pediatrics 170, no. 5 (1 May 2016): 435, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0156.

[vii] Daniel Gebretsadik, ‘Street Work and the Perceptions of Children: Perspectives from Dilla Town, Southern Ethiopia’, Global Studies of Childhood 7, no. 1 (1 March 2017): 29–37, https://doi.org/10.1177/2043610617694741.

[viii] Consortium for Street Children, ‘Africa Consultation Report for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment on Children in Street Situations. February – March 2016’, 2016, https://www.streetchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Report-on-Ghana-Zimbabwe-DRC-consultations-April-2016-1.pdf.