Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Street Children and the Excluded Class

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Street Children and the Excluded Class

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article explores the everyday experiences of street children from a social class perspective. I follow De Benitez's (2003) definition of street children as those kids who permanently live on the street to the extent of even sleeping there at night. These are kids who work, beg and steal for a living, are out of school and do not have access to basic health services or the protection of a tutor or an adult. Moreover, these children do not live in an environment fit for mental and emotional well-being. The conjunction of factors such as these raises a barrier which hinders the kids' opportunities to overcome the highly adverse conditions of the excluded life. Children who work on the streets but return home at night are not included in the group under scrutiny. The major reason for this is that these kids (usually called children on the street) form a distinct social and economic unit with their families and some do go to school. The reduction in the incidence of poverty of a household with working children is a well-established fact (Bahalla and Lapeyre 1999). It has been estimated that there are some 90 million children worldwide that actually make their living on the street. The number of children on the street is estimated to be close to 60 million (Shorter and Onyancha 1999).

Street children are usually referred to as children living in poverty, young transgressors, or children under vulnerable conditions. A more precise definition groups them among the homeless, the vagrants, the informal street traders and the chronically unemployed. Hence, street children are viewed by some scholars as part of the socially excluded population (Bhalla and Lapeyre 1999). Yet, in the theoretical discussion offered below, I contend that these kids can be viewed as part of a defined social class, namely: the socially excluded class. The main theoretical assumption of using a concept such as this is that the social exclusion and the social class paradigms are compatible, for instance, that there is not a clear demarcation line between the excluded population and the rest of society. Instead we find a social grey zone characterized by the presence of excluded persons who contribute to the division of labor through either the provision of menial services or by informally selling some of the goods produced by national and international enterprises; namely items such as small toys, beverages, clothing, foot ware, other accessories and sweets. Before engaging in that discussion I will point out the crucial dimensions that generally define a group that is socially excluded and those which define it as constituting a social class. This brief presentation will allow me to orchestrate the complete layout of the present paper.

Excluded people are so because they have been denied certain social and political rights. They are not full citizens. A social class, on the other hand, refers to groups who share a common life-experience and a similar position in the division of labor. Additionally, members of a class should posses some form of capital for participating in production and some means to express their particular interests. The concept of social class also incorporates a relational dimension: that which links a class to other social classes and to the state.

The social exclusion of children can be easily recognized in their lack of access to basic services including health, education, and adequate housing. They are also deprived of social respect and of a mere measure of power to control the course of their lives. As to social class, street children share a life experience determined by their running away from home and their need of survival on the street. Street kids also participate in the division labor performing menial and sometimes illicit tasks and develop and use social capital in order to get by. The relational dimension of the excluded class--including street children--is characterized by the high degree of oppression that other groups, classes, and the state bring to bear against them. …

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