The role of the United Nations in combating the phenomenon of street children: agreements and mechanisms

The role of the United Nations in combating the phenomenon of street children: Conventions and Mechanisms

D: Wadad Ghazlani

University of May 8, 1945 – Guelma (Algeria)

Summary :

The global changes that occurred in the past two decades, with the rise of concepts of human development and human rights, have led to a growing interest in children and their physical, emotional and intellectual rights, which are part of human rights. This interest reached its highest point after the World Summit on Childhood in 1990, which issued the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by most countries of the world to this day, to become the basis for dealing with child issues through the legislation adopted by the signatory countries to guarantee these rights. .


     structural adjustment programs on countries of the people in the South, especially those most affected (women and children) in the light of the increasing rates of poverty and widespread unemployment and inflation, and the disintegration of family relationships, a number of negative social phenomena, which included mainly children from poor families. The most important of these phenomena is  employment of underage children and street children which is the content  of this study that also touch  conventions that have evolved by the United Nations and mechanism established for this purpose

 an introduction:

In light of the growing Arab and international interest in the rights of the child, it became important, since childhood issues gained their right to care and attention, as children constitute a significant percentage in Arab societies, and as a result of the fragility of the economy, the deteriorating social situation, and the absence of sustainable development indicators in some countries, Deficit in the level of support, which may be a factor driving deviant behaviors, including the phenomenon of street children.

In light of the existence of these social groups deprived of satisfying their basic material needs, some theoretical and analytical visions have emerged, analyzing the causes of this phenomenon and identifying possible legal interventions to confront it. One of the results of this was the emergence of the concept of  “children in difficult circumstances”   adopted by the United Nations Organization through UNICEF, which in recent years also adopted the term  “children in need of special protection” (1) .  Several studies have also appeared that dealt with the phenomenon of street children from multiple angles, such as the case of homeless children, beggars, juvenile delinquents, and homeless children. Based on the above, this study will attempt to address the concepts related to the phenomenon and monitor its causes and ways to address it.

So, to what extent have the contributions of international organizations succeeded in tackling the phenomenon, and what are the mechanisms that they have adopted?

 First: The conceptual and theoretical framework of the phenomenon:

a. Conditions of genesis of the phenomenon:

The phenomenon of street children is a global phenomenon with distant historical roots related to the development of human society and its contradictions, as some studies indicate that “it has historically been known in different formulas and under different global situations” )It took many forms and appearances in line with the prevailing economic and social conditions. Life and living conditions have a role in the emergence of the phenomenon, along with the outbreak of wars and armed conflicts between internal and between countries, and global wars that helped spread the phenomenon in the world and increase its numbers, and among the results of these global wars were: loss of family, displacement of children, delinquency of events The emergence of marginalized children, exposing children to a number of dangers such as disability and psychological disorders (war traumas), and there are some researchers refer the historical background of the phenomenon to the Middle Ages and precisely to the children gangs scattered in the countryside around Aroya and Russia in the Middle Ages, and Japan The phenomenon has been known in different eras.) . And in the United States of America they considered the presence of street children, or as they called them  “the ignorant and uncontrolled class of children,” threatening property and capital institutions, and therefore there was an attempt to physically remove them in the period between 1853-1890, and one of the attempts was to charge and displace 9000 people. From street children on the railways from the northern regions to the Midwest, where it was believed that the existence of this ignorant class of children threatened the property and institutions of the capitalists ) .

B. Defining terms:

1- The  term children in difficult circumstances:  The term children in difficult circumstances refers to groups of children who are excluded and excluded from the natural context of society as a result of family economic and social circumstances in which they do not have a hand. And therefore they must be treated as victims, not as guilty, and the interventions must include the child and the circumstances that drove him to this result, so that the treatment of the phenomenon is radical so that the child is protected from rebounding again for the same behavior as a result of the continuing conditions causing it (5) .

  1. The term children in need of protection : refers to a group of children who are exposed to grave dangers, which deny them the enjoyment of their societal rights, and then they must be granted special protection in order to rehabilitate them and enable them to obtain these rights (6) .

  It can be said that the first term seems clearer in terms of recognizing the role that the circumstances of these children play, and in terms of the necessity to deal with these conditions. And that the second term emphasizes the right of these children to make all possible efforts to give them special protection that enables them to obtain their rights and to reintegrate into the normal course of society. In this context, both terms are complementary to the other and can be considered the basis for any effective strategy to confront this phenomenon.

Talking about street children cannot be dealt with in isolation from global changes, as it has become necessary when analyzing any social, economic or cultural phenomenon that one starts from contemplating it on a global scale and then moves to the special levels. The phenomenon of street children is a global phenomenon, and research indicates and Studies indicate that a number of Arab countries have been affected by the repercussions of this phenomenon for various reasons, including poverty, unemployment, and inequality in the distribution of wealth, which is the main driver of the spread of child labor, behavioral deviations and loss of security. And this is what UNICEF expressed as: “ When poverty and inequality prevail in a society, children are more likely to be distracted by work and the risk of exploitation increases.” (7)

  1. Defining the street child: Some have focused on the child’s presence on the street and his practice of various activities, including sleep, and its connection to the extent of his relationship with the family. According to this argument, I consider the street child as : “The child who lives, works and sleeps in the street and belongs to the street With the interruption of his relationship with his family or the existence of a tenuous relationship with it ” (8) . Others focused on the criterion of  danger and gravity to which the child is exposed because of his presence in the street without supervision or protection from the family. This criterion includes beggary children, and street children who are proficient in any work who are exposed to exploitation and danger without protecting or caring for their families, even if they join their families to sleep with their relationship with their families always deteriorating.

Some have tried to reconcile the two approaches. They emphasized the link between this group and the street. However, it is necessary to differentiate between them by calling the first category “street children”  , and the second category  “children in the street , ”  as both groups are exposed to the dangers of the street and the mechanisms of coexistence in the street society However, the second group’s attachment to the family is still more powerful, which reduces its vulnerability to street dynamics (9) .

This distinction is important when defining interventions to confront the phenomenon.  However, these definitions are reproached for being descriptive, focusing on the features and symptoms of the phenomenon without analyzing it by placing it in its socio-economic context, so that the analysis includes the root causes of the phenomenon so that the confrontation and treatment are also radical.

The phenomenon of street children has overlapped with child labor, prostitution, abuse, drug addiction, trafficking in them, and school dropout. All of this is linked to poverty, economic decline and high unemployment rates, and to all this is added to the secret disintegration, the deterioration of the educational system and the limited network Social safety, and the presenting of the phenomenon of street children, at this severity at the present time, is mainly due to the increase in poverty, polarization and social exclusion as one of the negative consequences of economic reform policies and unbalanced development between urban and rural areas, which in turn eroded internal migration rates (10 ) .

C. Defining street children from the perspective of specialized organizations:

1- Definition of the World Health Organization: The World Health Organization in its annual report for the year 2000 defined street children as: “  That group of children who are noticed in the streets and do not go to school, or beg in the streets or sell in the informal sector where they work for others, And some of them are exploited by adults or even young people sexually. And in order for street children to be able to survive, some of them may join street gangs that rely on criminal activities such as theft (11) . ”  Whatever the reason for staying on the street, these children all lack adult protection and adequate care and are vulnerable to physical abuse, economic and sexual exploitation, and arbitrary detention.

The World Health Organization considered that many street children own homes, but they choose to stay on the street, and the reason for this may be poverty, overcrowding, rebellion against home or school pressures, or physical or sexual abuse at home. These children may spend some time with their families, but they spend the night in the street. According to this organization, they understand, according to this organization: “  Part of a family that lives in the street, whether they are from his immediate clan or his relatives because of poverty and homelessness (12) .”

The World Health Organization has enumerated four indicative categories of street children as:

1- Children who live in the street and are occupied only by staying and shelter.

2- Children separated from their families, regardless of their place of residence, whether in the streets, squares, deserted places, the homes of friends, hotels, or shelters.

3- Children who have a relationship with their families, but some circumstances (lack of space, poverty, psychological or material violence that is practiced on them) force them to spend nights or most of the days in the street.

4- Children in shelters (in care homes and social institutions) are at risk of becoming homeless 13 ) .

  In a statistical study carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organized Crime and the World Food Program, it was found that 66 percent of street children surveyed regularly take dangerous drugs, and that 80 percent of them are at risk of physical violence from their users and society, and that 70 percent of them had dropped out of school, while the remainder had never attended school.

In its 2002 report, the World Health Organization considered that nearly 53,000 children between the ages of birth and seventeen had died as a result of homicide, and that according to the other estimates of the International Labor Office, the number of children bonded to 5 million children and the number of workers in prostitution and the production of pornography 8.1 million The number of victims of trafficking was 2.1 million children in the year 2000 (14) . The phenomenon of violence committed against street children is the most important manifestation of it. Therefore, the efforts of the United Nations focused on its specialized agencies to combat violence against children, especially street children.

2- Definition of UNICEF: The definition focused on the child’s dependence on the street as a source of income and survival, as residing in the street was not required, and children working on the street and residing within their families were considered street children. Thus, street children are divided from the UNICEF perspective into children in Street children who work all day on the street and then return to their families at night to sleep, and street children whose relationship with their families is cut off or they have no families in the first place.

In a more recent definition by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in February 1993 of a street child, street children were divided into the following four groups:

 1- Children who live on the street, which is the source of their stay and shelter.

2- Children fleeing their families and living in makeshift groups or abandoned homes or buildings, or moving from one place to another.

3- Children who are still in a relationship with their families, but spend most of the day and some nights in the street due to poverty or crowded living space with the family, or exposure to physical and sexual exploitation within the family.

4- Children in care institutions who come to it from a state of displacement and at the same time they are threatened with returning to a state of homelessness again (15) .

Dr.. Characteristics of street children:

Although there are general common characteristics among street children in terms of the general reasons for their going out to the street, and in terms of their lifestyle in it, as well as in terms of the participation of these children in the denial of opportunities and societal rights due to their presence in the street, but they should not be viewed as being A homogeneous category, as there are many differences between them as individuals. Awareness of the heterogeneity of these children is one of the important factors in identifying appropriate interventions, with an emphasis on the importance of individualizing treatment within the framework of rehabilitation processes for their reintegration into society. According to the following criteria: 1- In terms of the reason for their presence on the street, which was previously discussed, 2- In terms of the work they undertake

   It is important to distinguish between ordinary child labor and street children, as the latter is distinguished by the fact that it is based on marginal activities that are very close to begging performed by a group of children who are constantly on the street.

Second . Child rights within the United Nations framework:

Before recognizing the following rights for the child, we find that the international covenants that included criminal protection for him have been elaborated according to the following:

 The 1924 Geneva Declaration: It included: –

1- Ensuring the natural, material and spiritual growth of the child.

2- The child’s right to food, medicine, shelter and care.

3- Child relief during disasters.

4- Prohibition of child exploitation.

5- Raising the child to cooperate with his peers.

 The establishment of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF: 1946.

– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 1948 and precisely Article 25/2 on the care, assistance and protection of the child.

– The 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War (the Fourth Convention), and the Additional First and Second Protocols of 1977.

– Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959, whose text included the ten principles: 1- Equal enjoyment of rights 2- The best interests of the child 3- The right to a name and nationality 4- Care and protection before and after birth 5- Special care of the child and motherhood 6. The right to family care.

7- The right to enjoy education and primary education is compulsory and free. 8- The right to protection and relief.9- Protection from neglect and exploitation 10- Protection from discrimination in all its forms.

– The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966: especially what is included in Article 23/4 relating to the protection of children in the event of divorce. Article 24 concerning the protection of the child and his right to a name and to acquire a nationality.

– The International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights 1966: Especially what is contained in Article 130/1 relating to the protection of children from economic and social exploitation and dangerous work and setting a minimum age for work. As well as Article 13.14, which includes the right to education and compulsory and free primary education,

 – The Minimum Age Convention for Public Employment 1973 (Labor Organization Convention No. 138).

Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Cases of Emergency and Armed Conflict 1974, which included 6 articles stipulating the prohibition of attacking civilians, especially children, or exposing them to ill-treatment, torture or collective punishment, and the inadmissibility of depriving them of shelter

Food and medical care, guaranteeing the rights contained in the International Bill of Human Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

– The United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1979 decides: The International Year of the Child and the formation of a working group to draft the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A declaration related to the social and legal principles relating to the protection and care of children for the year 1986, with special attention to foster care and adoption at the national and international levels. This declaration contained 20 articles.

The Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999, which specifically included International Labor Organization Convention No. 182.

1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, 2000.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, 2000  (16) .

       Those who follow the chronology of the development of children’s rights in the contemporary stage through what was presented in human rights documents, can distinguish between three generations that included stages of codifying and giving international legislative protection to children at the global level, which can be monitored in three main stations:  – The first generation : between 1923-1959

The second generation:  between 1959-1979

The third generation:  From 1979 until today.

A group of agreements and declarations have crystallized at each stage, which can be summarized as follows:

The first generation of child rights: It included the following stations:

 Save the Children’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child 1923, the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child 1924, the Convention Concerning Slavery 1926, the Forced Labor Convention 1930, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948, the Declaration of the International Federation for the Welfare of Children 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954, the Supplementary Convention To abolish slavery and the slave trade, 1956.

The second generation of child rights: which included the following texts:

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959, the Convention against Discrimination in the Field of Education 1960, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961, the Recommendation Concerning Satisfaction, the Minimum Age and the Registration of Marriage Contracts 1965, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 Charter International Civil and Political Rights Convention, 1966, Convention 138 – Minimum Age for Employment 1973, Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in States of Emergency and Armed Conflict 1978. Polish Initiative 1974.

 The third generation of child rights: It includes the following actions:

 International Year of the Child 1979, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979.

 Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction at the International Level 1980, Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) 1985, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, Universal Declaration on Education for All 1990, Universal Declaration on Child Survival, Protection and Development and Plan of Action 1990, United Nations Guiding Principles For the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency – Riyadh Principles 1990, the Declaration to Combat Exploitation Based on Child Sexual Trafficking and Action Plan 1996, Convention on the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor 1999  (17) .

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 is the basic building block that established an actual action plan, with its strict and mandatory care for the child.

Third: Proposed mechanisms to address the phenomenon of street children and its obstacles:

These mechanisms are:

1- Establishing special homes to take care of street children.

2- Establishing special centers for the rehabilitation and training of street children.

3- Establishing legislations that organize and concern the rights of the child.

4- Establishing national networks at the level of each country to combat the phenomenon.

5- Establishing specialized centers as a local government partner for UNICEF to protect street children.

The analysis of the reality of street children showed that there are some basic obstacles to confronting the phenomenon, which we summarize in:

1- The distorted view of street children.

2- The absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation policy that includes all groups of children in difficult circumstances.

3- As a result of the absence of this holistic view of the child in the context of his circumstances, it is difficult to incorporate the current policies of the phenomenon of street children in explicit and clear texts, as it is often referred to as a component within the framework of general social and economic policies and policies and programs of conditions affecting the situation of the poor.

4- The scarcity of necessary resources at the local levels to prepare the necessary infrastructure to rehabilitate street children and enable them to obtain opportunities and societal rights stipulated in the laws and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  Conclusion :

 The first paragraph of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 17) provides for ensuring the child’s access to information and materials from various national and international sources, especially those aimed at enhancing his social, spiritual and moral well-being and his physical and mental health. The audiovisual remains at the forefront of the tools entrusted with this task, as the provision of legislation and enactment of laws is not sufficient to secure adequate protection for this category of children, as the responsibility for implementing them lies primarily with the governments that must lay hands on the actual reasons that push and may push this category To take shelter from the street. And tightening the penalties on their sponsors and their families because children are the trust in the neck of the fathers.

And if some countries have reached today to secure some kind of acceptable protection for children, the road is still long, according to my estimation, to reach what is hoped for, especially in light of the changes that have resulted from globalization and its impact on the increase in family disintegration and the consolidation of the culture of the jungle. And pervasive delinquency and poverty.

   The following recommendations can be stated regarding the studied phenomenon:

1- The governments of the states adopt development programs that contribute to reducing the economic gap and the widespread poverty, especially in the countries of the South.

2- Creating specialized structures to accommodate young people suffering from social problems, and stimulating valuable civil society organizations in this area.

3- Creating a culture of dialogue between parents and children by encouraging awareness-raising programs in this regard through various media.

4- Creating youth centers to absorb the void that this group may suffer from, and employing their talents in utilitarian fields, whether for them or for their society.

5- Benefiting from the support provided by specialized institutions in the field of child support and adopting the experiences of leading countries in this field.


  1. Fouad Jamal Abdel Qader, Criminal Protection for Children  (Beirut: Dar Al-Elm, 2007), p.16.
  2. .: http
  3. ibid
  4. index /
  5. Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Wahhab , Street Children in Yemen: A Socio-Economic Study (Yemen: University of Aden, 2010), p. 59.
  6. Ibid., 60.
  7. Ibid., 61.
  8. Razzaq Hamad Awadi “The Rights of the Child in International Agreements and Covenants” The Asian Review , Issue 19 (2009), p.30.
  9. Ibid., 33
  10. index
  11. Razzaq Hamad Awadi, ibid., P. 33.
  12. 12.http: unicef, op.cit.
  13. ibid
  14. ibid
  15. ibid
  16. Salem Hamad, International Conventions for the Protection of Street Children (Cairo: Magda House, 2010), p. 72
  17. Betis Hall, The Historical Development of Child Rights During the Twentieth Century , translated by Lina Awad (Beirut: University Library, 2009), p. 42.
SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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