| Peace Corps' rededication to youth: Addressing the needs of youth-at-risk |
In November 1991, Marilyn Rocky, National Director of CHILDHOPE USA, testified before the US House of Representatives Select Committee on Hunger about the problems of street children worldwide.CHILDHOPE is an international advocacy organization working on behalf of street children. The following summarizes much of Ms. Rocky's testimony that provided a global perspective on the problem.
An estimated 100 million children and youth of the developing world live or spend most of their time on the streets. If all street children were isolated in one area, they would represent the tenth largest country in the world, falling between the populations of Pakistan and Mexico.
As many as 75 percent live at home but are forced to work and contribute to the family income with such jobs "on" the street as shining shoes, selling newspapers, hauling garbage, begging, or prostitution. The remaining 25 percent are children "of" the street, who live, work and sleep on city streets maintaining few - if any - ties with their families. They band together, forming surrogate families because their own families and societies have left them to fend for themselves.
This combined group has, and still remains, largely ignored. They do not appear in health statistics, education systems, or national census. Moreover, they are seen as a public nuisance, And in some countries, such as Brazil, they have become the targets of death squads who willfully torture and murder street children as a solution to growing crime statistics.
In 1950, 17 percent of the population of developing countries lived in cities, compared to 32 percent in 1988. Much of this migration has been youth and young families in search of work. In Latin America, for example, an estimated 77 percent of youth ages 15 to 24 will live in cities by the year 2000, compared to 70 percent of the population as a whole.*
(*United Nations, 1988 Revision. Global Estimated and Projects of Population by Age and Sex, NY 1988.)
Urbanization and its underlying causes-debt, economic stagnation, deforestation, rapid population growth, unsustainable agriculture practices, and government policies - have subsidized urban dwellers at the expense of rural farmers. As a result, increasing numbers of families and youth have moved to cities in search of economic opportunities.
In addition, war, civil strife, and armed violence have forced families and unaccompanied minors to urban areas. Victims of this strife are left without a family's safety net and become candidates for street life. Furthermore, natural and man-made disasters have added to the difficulty of those in already desperate circumstances in the urban centers.
As more and more families in the developing world settle in marginal areas near large cities, they will continue to lose the social and kinship networks found in rural areas. The side effects of this increasingly urban-based poverty are devastating
- a lack of access to education;
- the break-up of families;
- under- and malnourishment;
- inadequate health services;
- susceptibility to infectious diseases;
- vulnerability to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; physical and sexual abuse; drug abuse;
All of these side effects directly affect the children of these poor urban dwellers, forcing an increasing number of children to turn to the streets in order to contribute to their family's meager income. In addition, urbanization and the lure of the city continues to draw children from the rural areas to the city's streets where their peers become their source of family.
Therefore, this rapidly growing population of poor urban youth worldwide clearly stands out in many Peace Corps countries as one of the neediest groups and is a legitimate focus of Peace Corps programming.