Children end up on the streets and fleeing their homes due to unsafe conditions in their villages, their families living in severe economic distress, either in rural villages or city slums, and are unable to care for them. Many leave home to find ‘work,’ including begging, selling scrap materials for recycling, or prostitution in the pretext that joining street life often will provide them with more opportunities and economic advantages than their home lives.
Life on the streets proves to be dangerous for children who find themselves without a place to call home. These children become extraordinarily resourceful and resilient in order to survive. They form and function to satisfy a much needed sense of ‘belonging’ for children without families or other support systems, and are accordingly trapped in cycles of criminal activity and violence. At one point or another, many turn to substance or drug abuse in order to endure the harshness of the streets, whether that be starvation, threat of violence, sex trafficking or hazardous weather conditions (extreme cold, rain storms, etc.).
Overlooked by society, street children are at best disregarded and at worst dehumanized. Because they lack identification documents, street children are often targeted in ways that perpetuate gross abuses of human rights. Most street children are subjected to, or at a minimum have witnessed, unreported police brutality (shootings, chain whippings, sexual violence). Others have been forcibly removed from the streets by police officers in ‘round-ups’ and taken to ‘youth detention centers’ that fail to meet international human rights standards. In order to feed themselves, many children will work in unsafe and exploitative environments that expose them to the dangers of child labour, sex slavery and human trafficking. In Kenya, the prevalence of witchcraft also makes street children targets for kidnappings and child sacrifice rituals. For ‘unregistered’ children (those lacking proof of birth or identity), all are susceptible to abduction in one form or another because there is no proof of the child’s existence before their disappearance.