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African Unit 1

Street Children in Africa

Name: Kwaku Obosu-Mensah

College: Lorain Community College

Discipline: Sociology and International Studies

Module Title: “Street Children in Africa”

Narrative Description of the Module: This module will focus on street children in Africa. The module is important because the problem of children living and making their livelihood on the streets in big towns and major cities in African countries has tremendous socio-economic, health, cultural, and inter-generational demographic implications.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a growing global concern for the rights and welfare of children which culminated in the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 November 1989 (UNICEF, 1989). This was closely followed by the adoption of the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child by the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) held in Addis Ababa in 1990. Unfortunately, these global conventions and big conferences have not helped many children in many African countries; the problem is not only chronic, it is getting worse.

It is estimated that, for example, there are 10,000 street children in Uganda, between 40,000 and 90,000 in Ghana, 300,000 in Kenya, 600,000 in Sudan, and about 2 million in Nigeria. However the quality of data on street children vary somewhat between countries. Whereas UNESCO estimates there are roughly 150 million street children worldwide, Humanium, an international child sponsorship Non-Governmental Organization, asserts there are 120 million, of which 30 million are in Africa, 30 million in Asia and 60 million in South America (Humanium). In addition to these troubling statistics, Humanium describes the street children phenomenon in Africa as considerable (Nigeria), very troubling (Botswana), very high (Gambia), bleak (Uganda), constantly rising (Tanzania), serious situation (Democratic Republic of Congo), and severely under-documented (Rwanda) (See Individual Country profiles at Humanium). Teaching and research into Africa’s street children, such as this module, needs encouragement and support. This is one way of helping to end the “street children’s war”.


Researchers, human and children’s rights advocates, frontline social/health workers, police officers, etc. have identified certain general factors that affect children living on the street. These include: lack of access to education/vocation and housing; sexual and economic exploitation, precarious job opportunities, forced prostitution; drug (ab)use, exposure to violence, and conflict with the law; health problems resulting from malnutrition, STDs and STIs, and lack of access to health care and even premature death.


These general problems notwithstanding, Africa is not a homogeneous entity but a very diversified continent. With 54 countries, very distinct cultures, hundreds of languages, different levels of socio-economic development and political systems. Consequently, the depth and extent of street child problems will vary from country to country. The flexibility of the module will enable different instructors interested in different African countries to adjust the content to suit their countries of interest. For example, while war may be the chief contributory factor to street children in one area, government austerity economic package or some cultural practices may be the leading cause in another.


Lectures, classroom discussions, and research of the topic will provide greater awareness and understanding of street children in some African countries.


Educational Objectives of the Module

Generally, the module will examine the social, economic and cultural factors that compel some children to live on the street. Through a sociological lens, this module will systematically discuss and analyze why some children leave the comfort of their homes to make out a living on the streets of cities and other major towns where child social welfare is inadequate or non-existent. Who are these children and where do they come from (their social backgrounds)? Are these children merely thrill- and adventure-seekers, escaping abusive adults, including own parents, or certain social structural factors pushed them out of their homes? What specific factors compel these children to make a livelihood on the street? It will also critically examine how street children make a living on the street (job opportunities, healthcare, housing, law and personal security etc.); the coping mechanisms employed by street children to deal with their vulnerable situation; the dangers associated with living on the streets (sexual exploitation, theft, discrimination, stereotyping, health problems including STDs/STIs and other infections, and death). In light of the gloomy picture generally painted of street children, the module will also examine how street living offers any opportunities to these children. Finally, the module will investigate macro-sociological issues dealing with societal reaction to street living, organizations assisting street children, resources available to organizations that assist street children, and governmental policies on street children.

Students will:
  1. be able to analyze the determining factors (social, economic, cultural) that compel some children to live on the streets
  2. be able to understand the dangers, and opportunities if any, encountered by street children in a typical African country
  3. be able to examine the coping mechanisms used by street children
  4. be able to examine the current intervention strategies used by local and international Non-Governmental Organizations to assist street children
  5. study and analyze governmental policies on street children
  6. demonstrate an understanding of the potential solutions for ameliorating conditions that predispose some children to street living as well as resettling street children
Detailed outline of main themes (with accompanying content notes) to be included in the Lectures/Discussions Used to Implement the Module
  1. Street children
    1. According UNESCO, various categories of street children exist. There are those who work on the streets as their only means of getting money, those who take refuge on the streets during the day but return to some form of family at night and those who permanently live on the street without a family network. All are at risk from abuse, exploitation and vigilante or police violence, but the most vulnerable are those who actually sleep and live on the streets, hiding under bridges, in gutters, in railway stations. While they may have small jobs such as shoe-shining or market-selling to pull through, many also end up dying on the pavement, victims of drugs, gang rivalry and disease. Without some form of basic education and economic training, the future is bleak for these street children and their life expectancy terrifyingly low (UNESCO).
  2. Lessons learnt by street children
    1. The issue of what street children have learnt from living on the street will be examined. This is important because it gives a clear idea of what the street children think about their conditions. From their own words, we will know the pieces of advice current street children will give to potential street children
  3. Socio-economic and cultural factors
    1. It is important to examine socio-economic and cultural factors like inheritance, poverty, employment and educational level of parents, religious background, marital status of parents, bereavement, parental drug use, physical and mental disabilities, that push children out of family homes into the street.
  4. Governmental policies
    1. Governmental policies are very important regarding the wellbeing of street children. In some countries, government officials harass street children whilst in some other countries government officials assist in rehabilitating street children. Some children end up on the street due to poverty especially in countries where poverty is rife mostly due to official corruption. Due to corruption, money needed for programs like education, healthcare, etc. may end up in the pockets of individuals. Governmental policies affecting street children will be examined as part of this module.
  5. Local and international non-governmental organizations
    1. Due to the fact that many African governments are not willing or not able to assist street children, many non-governmental organizations have stepped in to assist these children. Some of these organizations are local and others are international. To have an overview of the assistance provided by such organizations, their operations will be studied or examined
  6. Dangers encountered by street children
    1. Street children encounter various dangers or hazards on the streets. Through literature review, and video clips the dangers encountered by street children will be tabulated
  7. Coping mechanisms
    1. This is a study of the various mechanisms employed by street children to survive on the streets
  8. Potential means of helping children off the street
    1. This is about suggestions the group of students taking this course give as methods of getting children off the street. This is an attempt to solicit solutions from students who are non-professionals and non-specialists. It should be noted that, at times “lay people” have more appropriate solutions than specialists

Student Readings (links to sites where readings can be accessed electronically or by purchase)

  1. Africa Educational Trust assists in educating street children.
  2. Safe Child Africa assists in resettling street children in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
  3. Kenya Street Children of Hope provides information on street children in Kenya
  4. Blossoms in the Dust is a UNESCo document on the street children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  5. Humaniumgives a general perspective of street children.
  6. This UNESCO document has detailed information on street children in Africa and around the world.
Writing/Field/Experiential Assignments Used to Implement the Module
  1. Audio-visual journal of fieldwork including daily responsibilities at place of volunteer in an African country.
  2. Essay/Paper based on interview of at least three street children.
Student Evaluation/Testing Regarding the Module
  1. Two tests: 20% (2 x 10%)
  2. One quiz: 10%
  3. Two commentaries: 30% (2 x 15%)
  4. One oral presentation: 10%
  5. One final exams: 30%
  6. Total: 100%

Resources (Bibliography) Used to Develop-Implement the Module (where feasible provide links to where resources can be accessed electronically)

  1. Aptekar, Lewis and Daniel Stoecklin (2013). Street Children and Homeless Youth: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Springer
  2. Human Rights Library. African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/24.9/49 (1990), entered into force Nov. 29, 1999.
  3. HUMANIUM. Street Children: Children living on the street.
  4. Kopoka, Peter Anthony (2000). “The Problem of Street Children in Africa: an ignored tragedy.” Paper to be presented to an International Conference on Street Children and Street Children's Health in East Africa, to be held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, April 19th - 21st April 2000.
  5. Obiri, D.D. (1996). “A Survey on Street Children”, Thesis submitted to ISSER for the award of Diploma in Statistics (unpublished). University of Ghana, Legon.
  6. UNESCO. Street Children.
  7. UNICEF. Convention on the Rights of the Child, New York, 20 November 1989.