Session 17/19

Page 6/9 Children’s street networks

Children’s street networks

East African research shows that it is difficult to contact children of the street directly, because of their former traumatic experiences with adults. Also, they don’t stay for long. Street children circle around between many people, and only stay as long as their immediate need is fulfilled. One moment they turn to a peer group for friends, the next moment they get a little food from an adult, find a place where they can sleep, etc. These quick contacts are like a puzzle that replaces parental care.

Gaining trust from a child of the street is a long process. A good start is to make relations with the people in the street who already know the children: street vendors, policemen, mechanics, prostitutes, youth who are informal leaders of street child groups, and other NGOs working in the streets. If you are accepted by these people, they will help you point out the children who need help the most, and introduce you to them. This way, you can create awareness in the whole community to find and help children who need rehabilitation.



Mutual social support is often very high in slum areas, giving children support from their street networks. For example, in Tanzania children do small jobs in return for food from street vendor Mammas. Ten-year old Sungura survived by stealing, but then found another way: “I decided to work for a woman who sold nourishment – I call her Mother Mtilie. I will wash her dishes, get her water, and she will in return provide me with food. She sometimes hands me a little cash. Whenever I was sick, she would purchase me medicine. She is the most decent individual I have known”. Other children report that prostitutes and vendors hand them small money, or they have success with begging, looking after cars in the street, collecting plastic garbage and selling it, etc.

  • Who are the people we should contact in our street community? – small business vendors, policemen, prostitutes, informal leaders, others? Who is most important?
  • How will we ask for their help to find the children who have in fact lost parental care?


    Street child groups have two sides: on the one hand, hunger and the lack of care can force children to create criminal gangs who steal, make violent attacks, trade in drugs, abuse their weakest members sexually, etc. On the other hand: street child groups also protect each their members, exchange vital information, provide for their sick or the young, and warn each other about dangers. You have to be tolerant and understand that they only commit crimes because they lost the care and guidance from parents who were unavailable. In any case, a child without membership of a street peer group will not survive for long. How are peer groups organized, and how should you connect with a child through them?

    The leaders of these groups are often teens or youth with many years of street experience. Like other leaders, they organize daily life and set the rules for working together. Kamangu shares his leadership experience: “To be on the street, one has to be mature and strong, one has to follow up the rules, which we are making to each other. Otherwise, one has to live in the centres. The street is not for weak children”. In adulthood, some of these children become important agents of change in their community, and turn their negative experiences into responsible social initiatives.

    Listen here to Peter from Kenya, who became an agent for change. Street group leaders are important gatekeepers when staff work to make contacts in the community.


    There are many faith-based and community-based organisations involved in care for street children. Rehab staff can partner with them, share experiences, and be inspired by their activities. At the end of this session, you can find an appendix: a list of organisations, and be inspired by activities they use to engage street children in rehabilitation.


    • Who are important street child group leaders in our community?
    • How can we contact them and get their trust?
    • How can we show them respect for caring and guiding for their leadership, and get their support?
    • What people in local faith-based or community-based organizations work with street children? Shall we invite them for a joint meeting, or look them up where they work?


      Please sum up, agree on and write ideas: how can we connect with key persons in the streets, with street child group leaders, and with other organisations in our community? What should our own leaders take responsibility for, who will work on contacts, and how can rehabilitation staff make a network of mutual trust?