AskDefine | Define guttersnipe

Dictionary Definition

guttersnipe n : a child who spends most of his time in the streets especially in slum areas [syn: street urchin]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person who is from the lowest social or economic class.
  2. A street urchin.

Extensive Definition

The term street children is used to refer to children who live on the streets. They are deprived of family care and protection. Most children on the streets are between the ages of 10 and 14 years old, and their populace between different cities is varied. Street children, or "street urchins", are, in particular, those that are not taken care of by parents or other protective guardians. Street children live in abandoned buildings, containers, automobiles, parks, or on the street itself. A great deal has been written defining street children, but the primary difficulty is that there are no precise categories, but rather a continuum, ranging from children who spend some time in the streets and sleep in a house with ill-prepared adults, to those who live entirely in the streets and have no adult supervision or care.
A widely accepted set of definitions, commonly attributed to UNICEF, defines street children into two main categories:
  1. Children on the street are those engaged in some kind of economic activity ranging from begging to vending. Most go home at the end of the day and contribute their earnings to their family. They may be attending school and retain a sense of belonging to a family. Because of the economic fragility of the family, these children may eventually opt for a permanent life on the streets.
  2. Children of the street actually live on the street (or outside of a normal family environment). Family ties may exist but are tenuous and are maintained only casually or occasionally.
Street children exist in many major cities, especially in developing countries, and may be the subject of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or even in extreme cases murder by "clean up squads" hired by local businesses.
In Latin America, a common cause is abandonment by poor families unable to feed all their children. In Africa, an increasingly common cause is AIDS.


The question of how to define a street child has generated much discussion that is usefully summarized by Sarah Thomas de Benítez in, "The State of the World's Street Children: Violence." ‘Street children’ is increasingly recognized by sociologists and anthropologists to be a socially constructed category that in reality does not form a clearly defined, homogeneous population or phenomenon (Glauser, 1990; Ennew, 2000; Moura, 2002). ‘Street children’ covers children in such a wide variety of circumstances and characteristics that policy-makers and service providers find it difficult to describe and target them. Upon peeling away the ‘street children’ label, individual girls and boys of all ages are found living and working in public spaces, visible in the great majority of the world’s urban centres. The definition of ‘street children’ is contested, but many practitioners and policymakers use UNICEF’s concept of boys and girls aged under 18 for whom ‘the street’ (including unoccupied dwellings and wasteland) has become home and/or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised (Black, 1993).


Street Children is a widely used term in the English language and has analogues in other languages such as French (les enfants des rues), Spanish (niños de la calle), Portuguese (meninos da rua) and German (straßenkinder). Street kids is also commonly employed although it is sometimes thought to be pejorative. In other languages children who live and/or work in the streets are known by many names. Some examples are listed below:
"gamin" (urchin) and "chinches" (bed bugs) in Colombia, "marginais" (criminals/marginals) in Rio, "pajaro frutero" (fruit birds) in Peru, "polillas" (moths) in Bolivia, "resistoleros" (little rebels) in Honduras, "scugnizzi" (spinning tops) in Naples, "Bui Doi" (dust children) in Vietnam, "saligoman" (nasty kids) in Rwanda, or "poussins" (chicks), "moustiques" (mosquitos) in Cameroon and "balados" (wanderers) in Zaire and Congo.

Numbers, Distribution and Gender


Estimates vary but one often-cited figure is that the number of children living independently in the streets totals between 100 million and 150 million worldwide.
According to a report from the Consortium for Street Children, a United Kingdom based consortium of related NGOs:
Estimating numbers of ‘street children’ is fraught with difficulties. In 1989, UNICEF estimated 100 million children were growing up on urban streets around the world. 14 years later UNICEF reported: ‘The latest estimates put the numbers of these children as high as 100 million’ (UNICEF, 2002: 37). And even more recently: ‘The exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world. It is likely that the numbers are increasing’ (UNICEF, 2005: 40-41). The 100 million figure is still commonly cited, but has no basis in fact (see Ennew and Milne, 1989; Hecht, 1998; Green, 1998). Similarly, it is debatable whether numbers of street children are growing globally or whether it is the awareness of street children within societies which has grown.


Street children may be found on every continent in a large majority of the world's cities. The following estimates indicate the global extent of street child populations.
  • Kenya 250,000 - 300,000
  • Egypt 200,000 - 1 million
  • Morocco 30,000
  • India 11 million
  • Vietnam 23,000
  • Mongolia 3700 - 4000
  • Philippines 200,000
  • Brazil 1 - 10 million (conflicting estimates)
  • Uruguay 3000
  • Jamaica 6,500
  • Russia 1 - 3 million
While the majority are in underdeveloped or poor countries, they are also found in highly industrialized and relatively rich states such as Germany (10,000) and the USA (750,000 to 1 million).


Although there are variations from country to country, 70% or more of street children are boys.


Children making their home/livelihoods on the street is not a new or modern phenomenon. In the introduction to his history of abandoned children in Soviet Russia 1918 -1930, Alan Ball states: Orphaned and abandoned children have been a source of misery from earliest times. They apparently accounted for most of the boy prostitutes in Augustan Rome and, a few centuries later, moved a church council of 442 in southern Gaul to declare: “Concerning abandoned children: there is general complaint that they are nowadays exposed more to dogs than to kindness.”[1] In tsarist Russia, seventeenth-century sources described destitute youths roaming the streets, and the phenomenon survived every attempt at eradication thereafter. Long before the Russian Revolution, the term besprizornye had gained wide currency.[2] In 1890, Danish-American journalist Jacob Riis described "street Arabs" in New York and his description of their characteristics and mode of life could easily be applied to modern street children.
Examples from popular fiction include Kipling's “Kim” as a street child in colonial India, and Fagin's crew of pickpockets in "Oliver Twist" as well as Sherlock Holmes' "Baker Street Irregulars" attest to the presence of street children in 19th century London.


Children may end up on the streets for several basic reasons: They may have no choice – they are abandoned, orphaned, or thrown out of their homes. Secondly, they may choose to live in the streets because of mistreatment or neglect or because their homes do not or cannot provide them with basic necessities. Many children also work in the streets because their earnings are needed by their families. But homes and families are part of the larger society and the underlying reasons for the poverty or breakdown of homes and families may be social, economic, political or environmental or any combination of these.
In a 1993 report, WHO offered the following list of causes for the phenomenon:
  • family breakdown
  • armed conflict
  • poverty
  • natural and man-made disasters
  • famine
  • physical and sexual abuse
  • exploitation by adults
  • dislocation through migration
  • urbanization and overcrowding
  • acculturation
The orphaning of children as a result of HIV/AIDS is another cause that might be added to this list.

Street children in Russia

In Russia, street children usually find a home in underground pipe and cable collectors during the harsh winter. These underground homes offer space, shelter and most importantly of all, heat from hot water and central heating pipes.
Russia has up to 4 million street children, and one crime in four involves underage youths. Officially, the number of children without supervision is more than 700,000. However, experts believe the real figure has long been between 2 and 4 million.

Street children in India

The Republic of India is the seventh largest and second most populous country in the world. With acceleration in economic growth, India has become one of the fastest growing developing countries. This has created a rift between poor and rich; 22 percent of the population lives below the income poverty line. Due to unemployment, increasing rural-urban migration, attraction of city life and a lack of political will India now has one of the largest number of child laborers in the world.
Street children are subject to malnutrition, hunger, health problems, substance abuse, theft, CSE, harassment by the city police and railway authorities, as well as physical and sexual abuse, although the Government of India has taken some corrective measures and declared child labor as illegal.
There are several NGO's working for the rehabilitation of street children, some major organization are as follow:
Deepalaya- Delhi Salam Balak- Delhi Jamghat- Delhi Cini Asha- Kolkotta I-India- Jaipur

Street children in Vietnam

According to data by the Street Educators’ Club, the number of street children in Vietnam has reduced from 21,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2007. The number dropped from 1,507 to 113 in Hanoi and from 8,507 to 794 in Ho Chi Minh City. In the meantime the number of migrant children is increasing. Many street children are by large migrants as well. This number is, however, unconfirmed due to varying definitions of street children. There are almost 400 humanitarian organisations and international non-governmental organizations providing help for about 15,000 children, who live in especially difficult conditions. Such organizations include Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, Young Lives International, VNhelp, Saigon Children's Charity, KOTO Hanoi, Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam, Enfants du Monde - Droits de l'Homme, Children of Vietnam, Catalyst Foundation, I-India,Aid Children Without Parents, Save the Children Sweden, Cay Mai street children, Care program and others.

Street children in Bucharest, Romania

The Council of Europe estimates that there are approximately 1000 street children in Bucharest, Romania, though estimates range from several hundred to 10,000. These children are homeless as a result of the policies of former Communist ruler Nicolae Ceauşescu, who forbade contraception in the hopes of ruling a populous nation, or of his successors, who consider the economy of greater importance than social welfare. Many of these children are abandoned or run away from home because their parents are too poor to feed them.
Some Romanian street children are preyed on by sex tourists, mainly from western Europe, and many can be seen inhaling aurolac (a paint thinner) from plastic bags, the substance of choice for those of limited means.

Street children in Brazil

Estimates on the numbers of Brazilian street children vary from 200,000 to 8 million. In one recent survey in São Paulo, 609 children were found to be sleeping on the streets. At least 50 were under 12 and unaccompanied by adult relations.
The main means of surviving on Brazil's streets are: finding food in rubbish bins or on refuse tips; being financially exploited by street sellers or as shoe shiners; stealing; prostitution; drug running.
Street children are known to receive beatings from the police or members of the public and also can face imprisonment, malnutrition, disease and AIDS.

Underlying causes

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of approximately 190 million people. The disparity between the rich and the poor in Brazilian society is one of the largest. The richest 1% of Brazil's population control 50% of its income. The poorest 50% of society live on just 10% of the country's wealth.
Street children are an urban problem which has roots in rural poverty, neglect and the enforced, even violent displacement of large numbers of people from the land.
This problem is accentuated by the fact that the urban population is becoming younger. In Latin America alone, projections for the year 2020 point to 300 million urban minors, 30% of whom will be extremely poor [Ref: Independent Commission on International Issues]. 78% of the Brazilian population live in cities and towns.
The persistent poverty, rapid industrialisation and the burgeoning of urban shanty towns (favelas), generate massive social and economic upheaval. Profound poverty means family disintegration, violence and break-up become more prevalent.

Death squads

Most of Brazil's street children expect to be killed before they are 18. Between 4 and 5 adolescents are murdered daily and that every 12 minutes a child is beaten [Ref: Brazil's National Movement of Street Children]. Conservative figures put the number at 2 killings every day.
There are reports that some children have been executed and/or mutilated. In July 1993, eight children and adolescents were killed in a shooting near the Candelária Church in Rio. This event was widely publicised around the world, and the routine killing of street children in Brazil was harshly criticised. As a result, the death squads moved underground. However, corrupt officials are still reputed to be involved - In São Paulo, 20% of homicides committed by the police were against minors in the first months of 1999.

Drug gangs

Drug gangs now account for roughly half the child murders in Rio [Rio de Janeiro State Legislature]. Since the 1990s, a pervasive drug culture has been burgeoning. Today, Brazil ranks as the second biggest consumer of cocaine in the world, after the USA. favelas (where 25% of the city's population live) drug gangs control extremely violent areas. Some street children are recruited by such drug gangs and given guns for protection. They then traffic drugs and messages between sellers and buyers. A child's chance of dying in the drug areas of the favelas is "eight to nine times greater than in the Middle East". [Ref: Save The Children]

Government and non-government responses

Responses by governments

Because they have not reached the age of majority street children have no representation in the governing process. They have no vote themselves nor by proxy through their parents, from whom they likely are alienated. Nor do street children have any economic leverage. Governments, consequently, may pay little attention to them.
The rights of street children are often ignored by governments despite the fact that the nearly all of the world's governments have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Governments are often embarrassed by street children and may blame parents or neighboring countries. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) may also be blamed for encouraging children to live in the streets by making street life more bearable or attractive through the services they provide.
When governments implement programs to deal with street children these generally involve placing the children in orphanages, juvenile homes or correctional institutes. However, some children are in the streets because they have fled from such institutions and some governments prefer to support or work in partnership with NGO programs. Governments sometimes institute roundups when they remove all the children from city streets and deposit them elsewhere or incarcerate them.
In the most extreme cases, governments may tacitly accept or participate in social cleansing operations that murder street children. In Brazil, for example, "Police say the death squads earn $40 to $50 for killing a street kid and as much as $500 for an adult. In January, Health Minister Alceni Guerra said the government had evidence that 'businessmen are financing and even directing the killing of street children.'"

NGO responses

Non-government organizations employ a wide variety of strategies to address the needs and rights of street children. These may be categorized as follows:
  • Advocacy - through media and government contacts agencies may press for the rights of street children to be respected.
  • Preventive - programs that work to prevent children from taking to the streets, through family and community support and education.
  • Institutional
    • residential rehabilitation programs - some agencies provide an environment isolated from the streets where activities are focussed on assisting children to recover from drug, physical or sexual abuse.
    • full-care residential homes - the final stage in many agencies' programs is when the child is no longer in the streets but lives completely in an environment provided by the agency. Some agencies promote fostering children to individual families. Others set up group homes where a small number of children live together with houseparents employed by the agency. Others set up institutional care centers catering to large numbers of children. Some agencies include a follow-up program that monitors and counsels children and families after the child has left the residential program.
  • Street based programs - these work to alleviate the worst aspects of street life for children by providing services to them in the streets. These programs tend to be less expensive and serve a larger number of street children than institutional programs since the children still must provide for themselves in the streets.
    • feeding programs
    • medical services
    • legal assistance
    • street education
    • financial services (banking and entrepreneur programs)
    • family re-unification
    • drop-in centers/night shelters
    • outreach programs designed to bring the children into closer contact with the agency
  • Conscientization - change street children's attitudes to their circumstances - view themselves as an oppressed minority and become protagonists rather than passive recipients of aid.
Many agencies employ several of these strategies and a child will pass through a number of stages before he or she "graduates". First he/she will be contacted by an outreach program, then may become involved in drop-in center programs, though still living in the streets. Later the child may be accepted into a half-way house and finally into residential care where he or she becomes fully divorced from street life.
guttersnipe in Danish: Gadebørn
guttersnipe in German: Straßenkind
guttersnipe in Spanish: Niños de la calle
guttersnipe in French: Enfant des rues
guttersnipe in Italian: Bambino di strada
guttersnipe in Dutch: Straatkind
guttersnipe in Japanese: ストリートチルドレン
guttersnipe in Portuguese: Criança de rua
guttersnipe in Russian: Детская беспризорность
guttersnipe in Finnish: Katulapset
guttersnipe in Swedish: Gatubarn
guttersnipe in Chinese: 街童

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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