Life on the streets: Children's stories

Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004

Saturday 20 November is Universal Children's Day, a date devoted to "the welfare of the children of the world", according to organisers the United Nations.

To mark the day the BBC's language sites spoke to a number of homeless or underprivileged children. Included below are some of their stories.

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ALEXY, ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

My name is Alexey. Everybody calls me Lesha. I am nine years old. I live on the street right in front of the block of flats, where my parents used to live.

They are both alcoholics and they sold their flat so that they could pay for the booze. Now they are homeless themselves and stay with their alcoholic friends constantly moving from one place to another.

I meet my former neighbours and beg for some food or a little money. They usually don't sympathise because I am smelly. I smoke and sniff glue.

I don't want to go back to my parents, but also I don't like hostels for kids like me. You have to do what you are told and wake up at a certain time. I am used to being free to do what I want.

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CARLOS HERIDIA, LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

Carlos Heredia, 9, started juggling a year ago. First it was a game, now it is an afternoon job in a busy street of La Paz, Bolivia.

His situation is similar to that of millions of 'street kids' in Latin America. Usually they have a home in poverty stricken areas or shanty towns, but their desperate economic situation compels them to live in the streets all day, doing what they can to earn money.

We have to eat. I go to school in the morning and then I come to this corner to juggle with my oranges. I don't have time for lunch, I do that at 4 pm when there are less cars to get money from.

After that I come back here with my brother who is 11 years old. He can't juggle so he dances by my side.

We make about 20 bolivianos ($2.50) each day. At night we go home. It's far away - two hours' journey.

Many cars give us money, other drivers get mad at us, they sound their claxons or start their cars when we are still in front of them, and they don't give us any money.

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RAJAN, DELHI, INDIA

I came to Delhi with my mother and her second husband. I was seven then. I am thirteen now. My mother abandoned me at the bus terminal while I was fast asleep and I have not seen her since.

Suddenly, I was an orphan. I met some boys who used to beg at the station and I joined them in begging to feed myself. I did not have a name, so friends started calling me Rajan, which means the king.

I started wiping cars when they stopped at a red light. After a while we moved to Connaught Place, the main shopping area in the capital, where we started picking rag. I also worked in a roadside eatery for a while.

While working there I met people working for a charity that help destitute children, called Jamghat. I work for them now.

I am quite happy here. Even if I find out where my mother is I will not return to her.

I am studying. I am also learning sewing, not neatly but now I can write letters to some extent. I like cricket. I went to Pakistan recently to play. It was an event called Cricket for Peace.

Police have beaten me several times. They beat me once while I was sleeping. I do mime for the Jamghat in which I portray what the police do.

Whenever I feel like rambling I go to my old hangouts. I still see my old friends. I take a bus but do not pay the fare.

I have seen the whole capital without paying any fare. I have travelled to many cities without a ticket. I have been to Mumbai, Haridwar and Dehradun.

I am living with kids like myself and I am very happy. I think I will study well and then help children like myself.

Send us your reaction to these stories using the form below. Have you or anyone you know been homeless or lived as a 'street kid'? What can be done to improve the situation of underprivileged children worldwide?

The irony of it all is that some people live in affluence and yet turn a blind eye on those living in perpetual penury

Kevin Madu, Kaduna, Nigeria

These stories are very sad and can soften even the most hardened hearts. In my country, Nigeria, such sorry sights stare the citizens squarely in the eyes. The irony of it all is that some people live in affluence and yet turn a blind eye on those living in perpetual penury. Sympathy does not come to their minds, and they are nonchalant about these children's plights. I wish all the kids worldwide a happy children's day and hope the underprivileged can have cause to put a big grin on their faces.
Kevin Madu, Kaduna, Nigeria

These stories and others like them are exactly why I believe that too much focus is put on nationalism and domestic poor. As far as I am concerned there are very, very few in Canada who are truly poor - poor in the same vein as these poor souls described in this BBC feature. I get lambasted for it, but I would vastly prefer to give money to poor elsewhere than those who are poor in Canada.
Andrew Browne, Port Coquitlam, Canada

There are many kids in my country who are dirt poor. It is very sad when you are in your car and you stop at traffic lights, because those kids will come to ask for a little money from you. Those children that beg at traffic lights started to appear after the economic crisis happened. What really saddened me when it happened was I saw a little boy that was wearing a school uniform begging. I always saw that kid whenever I passed the same traffic light. As time went by, I noticed his transformation from an innocent looking child to one with a bewildered look. I don't think he went to school anymore.

My friends and I used to give money to as many kids as we could. But then we read in the newspapers about children who were allegedly kidnapped and forced to be beggars. Some of them had their body mutilated to make them appear pitiful so they could earn more. Then we started to doubt whether we should give money to those children because we never knew if it would help them or it would just make the kidnappings worse. It was like everything was wrong.
Sally, Jakarta, Indonesia

Having recently returned from living in Delhi, I can vouch that there are many children far worse off than these. In Delhi itself there are huge numbers of children on the street. Some are alone or in gangs of friends. Some are begging for their parents. Some are begging as part of organised groups, headed by criminals that use the children. Some of the children have had limbs amputated or large burns to make them better beggars. At night they are often robbed of what they have been given during the day. I've regularly taken groups of these children to buy them food as otherwise for many the money goes on glue or drugs, or back to whoever controls them.
Kieron Robbins, Barcelona, Spain

What a shame that we spend so much money on ways to kill one another when there are kids like this that we could help. It really shows what the majority of us humans are.
Greg, Siena, Italy

It amazes me that there are people who will treat a dog or cat like a jewel for all of their short spoilt lives while hundreds of thousands of people suffer due to poverty, homelessness, abuse, hunger and disease. I've worked at an orphanage for babies who are put up for adoption, and it is incredible how the love that they receive there changes their lives. They are the most loving kids I have ever met. They receive so much from everyone around them, and they give it back unconditionally. Guilt does not move people's hearts, but love touches all.
Jen Hancock, London, UK

There is a need for a concerted effort to help these kids who are vulnerable on the street. NGOs who help these kids should use more of the money collected for the upkeep of these kids and not administrative charges. Like the young lad from India, with help most of these kids would like to be educated and also learn a trade.
Albert Paintsil, Accra, Ghana

I feel very sad for these children and I just hope that they will be happy, and at least get some food in the future.
Elodie Tin Kin Wang, Taiwan

As a former street kid I can honestly say that 'survival of the fittest' is the law of the land, and it is not a place for children

Victoria, USA

When I was 16, I ran away from home. I lived on the streets off and on for six months. I saw many sad and degrading ways of life. I was lucky, I had a great father who helped me to get my life together. I have a college degree, and am a productive member of society. However, those few months learning street survival have stayed with me all these years. We, as citizens of whatever country we live in, have a responsibility to protect the children who live on the streets. As a former street kid I can honestly say that 'survival of the fittest' is the law of the land, and it is not a place for children. There are some pretty evil people out there who prey on these children and scar them for life. I know from experience.
Victoria, USA

I think that outsourcing jobs from Canada/US/Europe to the third world nations is creating these scenes. We export these jobs just for the bottom line. Maybe if we paid people three times as much or more in the developing nations, we could give hope to these kids, so they don't have to live like this. The average Indian helpdesk worker makes USD$40 a month (1,800 rupees a month). If the outsourcing corporations maybe paid them better, their family could live a better life.
Brett Labach, Saskatoon, Canada

I think if people like George Bush and Tony Blair spend even a fraction of the money they spend on fighting illegal wars like the one in Iraq, they will have spread freedom and happiness to so many of these deserving children around the world.
Kamal, Kabul, Afghanistan

I commend you for your work. I wish the world would be much more aware, of the nightmare homeless kids in big cities face every day. These children are the ones who pay the highest price of inequality among us. Poor uneducated people, who are into drugs and alcohol shouldn't be allowed to have children.
Cord Iszler, Miami Beach, Fl, USA

I think that these three stories deserve more attention in the mainstream media. I do not know any homeless people although I see many on my way to and from work every day. But these stories are reminders to us, as humans living in the Western world, that many of our trivial pre-occupations and worries in life are just so meaningless. Rajat is an amazing example of courage.
Al, New York, NY, USA

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