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close this book Peace Corps' rededication to youth: Addressing the needs of youth-at-risk
View the document Contents
View the document Introduction
View the document A global overview of the problem
View the document An outreach center for street children: Serving their basic needs
View the document Street children and aids: An urgent need
View the document Artisan apprenticeships: An opportunity for future employment
View the document Street girls: Their special health needs
View the document Sports: Developing leadership and teamwork
View the document Conservation corps: Helping improve the environment
View the document Peace Corps volunteer secondary assignments: Working with youth-at-risk

Street girls: Their special health needs

Susanna was the oldest in a family of five brothers and four sisters. Her father, an alcoholic, was rarely home. Her mother worked in the market selling candy and, when she could afford materials, made baskets. Susanna was a bright and curious student, attending school each day and returning home before joining her mother to sell goods in the market.

One day when she was 12 years old, she came home from school and found her father at the house drunk. He attacked and raped her, and threatened to throw her out of the house if she told anyone. After this traumatic experience Susanna became very withdrawn. She refused to go to school and insisted she go directly to the market with her mother, over her mother* objections. Her mother tried desperately to get Susanna to talk about what was wrong but Susanna didn't think her mother would believe her.

Over the next few months Susanna's cheerful play and laughter disappeared. In an attempt to reverse this, her mother gave Susanna flowers to sell in the market, thinking this might help her forget about whatever was bothering her and regain her happy attitude. One day while selling on the street, a man reached out and pulled her into a car and drove away. Once again she was raped and then left on the street, physically and mentally injured

Susanna was angry at her mother for forcing her to sell flowers. She hated herself, felt dirty, and was ashamed to go back home. For many days, she wandered the streets in a daze, speaking to nobody. One evening she found a knife and cut herself. Cecilia, al Syear old street girl, found Susanna, took the knife from her, wrapped the cuts with an old rag and took her to Casa del Joven, a service for street children.

Susanna was treated by the nurse and given some food. After completing the meal, she told her new friend Cecilia she didn't want to stay there because they were the only girls at the house. For the next few months, Susanna stayed on the street with Cecilia and other street girls. First they Pave her food but finally told her she would have to make her own money just as they did They sometimes stole in the market, but most of the time they sold themselves in exchange for food, money and clothes. Susanna appreciated having the money, dread having to earn it this way, but found no other way to survive. She thought about going back to her mother but was still too scared and angry.

For the next two years she survived on the streets. At 15, ski. became pregnant. The months leading up to the birth of tree child were difficult. She longed for her mother's help and direction and finally got up enough courage to go back home, When she arrived, the neighbors had sad news for Susanna Her mother had died a few months before, and her brother and sisters had moved to a village several hundred miles away to stay with their aunt. Susanna was crushed by the news of her mother, but knew she couldn't go to the village because she would be seen as a disgrace to the family. With no other alternatives, Susanna returned to her companions on street.


The lives of low-income urban young women living and/or working on the street, or in domestic and factory settings, an frequently characterized by early and sometimes unwanted high-risk pregnancies, early sexual initiation and abuse, police brutality, high levels of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, mental health problems including, drug abuse, hunger and inadequate nutrition. Many of these health problems are directly related to the status and work of young women, in the home, on the streets, in factories, or in domestic settings. In many cases, these young women are forced to drop out of school to care for younger siblings, work on the streets, or labor as domestics from an early age. In other cases, young women must work to support themselves and their own children.*

(* The problem statement and discussion of the problem al are summarized, in part, from a special background prepared by Gary Knaul Barker for a conference "Reach The Hard-To-Reach: Health Strategies For Serving Urban Young Women" organized by CHILDHOPE held Washington, D.C., December 34, 1991.)


Low-income urban young women in developing countries are three times disadvantaged-coming from a low-income family, women, and being minors. While some attention as been given to women's status and health in the pest decade, far less attention has gone to the needs of young women. The difficulties these young women face are a prelude to the lives hey will likely endure as adult women in developing countries. With regard to their health status, the severe setbacks that start as early as birth have long-term ramifications for low-income women in developing countries.

For low-income young women in urban areas, there are a umber of factors which place them in difficult circumstances and affect their physical and mental health. How they are viewed and what is expected of them by boys and men, family and society, are among the most important factors and probably he most difficult for individuals or organizations to influence change. But this must be understood and acknowledged when attempting to address other factors such as their access to food, opportunity to go to and complete school, ability to work and earn a decent income, maintain their own health, and hat of their children.

For example, UN figures show that, on the average, a woman in a developing country with zero years education has between fix and seven children. A woman with seven or more years of education has between three and four children. While adequate statistics are not available of rural versus urban breakdown, young women's school enrollment rates continue to lag behind boys in Asia and Africa, while they are nearly equal in most of Latin America. Even where school enrollment rates have increased in recent years, millions of children and youth-both girls and boys-are forced to drop out of school.

Traditionally, girls in developing countries worked in the home in both rural and urban areas. In recent years, a growing number of young women are apparently working on the streets, or at least becoming more visible on the streets. Program officials who assist street and working children suggest that long-term economic difficulties are breaking down traditional family structures and support systems which once kept girls off he streets somewhat more than boys. Research and anecdotal evidence from several cities in developing countries show that between three and 30 percent of the population of working and street children are girls. A higher percentage work rather the live on the streets and are concentrated more in market settings working alongside their mothers.

Low-income urban women like their male counterparts, outside social and health services. To date, most services street children worldwide have been directed to the needs street boys and have simply added services for girls as adjunct to that for boys. But recent experience shows that to effective, services must be designed to address the specific needs and speak the language of the these high-risk you women based on a genuine understanding of their circumstance

The programs must address issues of abortion, birth corm childbearing, maternal health, sexual abuse including irk and rape, police brutality, hunger, drug abuse, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, mental health problems relate to depression and the loss of self-esteem, empowerment women, and alternatives to prostitution and other degrading forms of work.


Contacts For Possible Collaboration

For the last 8 years, Casa del Joven, a local NGO, the only outreach center for street children in the city, percent of whom have been boys and young men. Only in last three years have a few girls come to the center. However a recent survey done by street educators from Casa del Jove and staff of the Ministry of Social Welfare estimated about 1,000 girls work and live on the streets, at least 400 of them prostitutes.

The survey results confirmed what Casa del Joven had suspected - that there is a great need to serve street girls and that programs are not currently designed to attract and meet the specific needs. Casa del Joven has held preliminary meet)' with the Ministry, with Save the Children, Oxfam UK, an Dutch and German donors about providing funds and technical assistance to establish a comprehensive street girl program This would include street and Peer educators, a clinic residential program for young single mothers, and vocational raining to help girls move away from prostitution.

A more comprehensive survey of street girls will be completed to determine specific needs. During the first year, Casa del Joven will purchase and begin an outreach center, train street and peer educators, raise the funds to begin a clinic and organize the vocational training program. They will also seek he cooperation of several local clinics to assist street girls until Casa's clinic is ready. The goal is to complete the clinic and begin the vocational training program by the end of the second year.

Peach Corps Project Activities

Use current Volunteers, who have available time and who have received some training from those who have worked with street girls, to assist other NGOs or the government in completing a final survey of street girls needs, prepare reports and distribute findings to appropriate government, NGO, and donor representatives.

Assist in writing funding proposals to international donors for support of street girl programs.

Assist in the development of special services in birth control, childbearing, maternal health, sex education, and AIDS and STD education, counseling and treatment.

Train street educators and peer educators to provide information and education to street girls.

Assist in the development of a health clinic and residential program.

Research and develop alternative work opportunities, income generating activities and vocational training programs.

Assist in the development of educational materials and curricula and teach basic education.

Design community education and public education programs to improve the image of, and interest street girls.