Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Street children in Latin America

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 23 May 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1596
  1. Thomas J Scanlon, research fellowa (,
  2. Andrew Tomkins, professor of international child healtha,
  3. Margaret A Lynch, reader in community paediatricsb,
  4. Francesca Scanlon, clinical assistantc
  1. a Centre for International Child Health, Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, University College London Medical School, London WC1N 1EH
  2. b Newcomen Centre, UMDS, Guys Hospital, London
  3. c Department of Child and Family Psychiatry, Horsham and Crawley Healthcare Trust, Horsham, West Sussex
  1. Correspondence to: Dr T Scanlon

    Millions of children throughout the world live on the street. These children are among the most deprived; they usually have no access to health care or education and some of them have been victims of violence even before taking to the street. Street children are seen by many as worthless, and many countries have used violent and punitive measures to remove them. Recently new approaches have been introduced that aim to restore these children to their families and societies. Initial evaluation suggests that these schemes can be successful. This article discusses the phenomenon of street children in Latin America and seeks to provide some answers to commonly asked questions.

    Summary points

    The definition of street children varies, although much research distinguishes two groups: home based, who usually return home at night, and street based, who remain on the street and have no family support

    Little accurate information exists about the numbers of street children

    Street children are more prone to several physical problems, although most research has focused on adverse effects of sexual activity and drug misuse

    Support programmes have succeeded in returning children to their homes

    Despite legislative changes, a vocal street children's movement, and adoption of advocacy strategies many street children continue to suffer violence and human rights abuses

    Much of society and the media remain to be convinced of the worth of street children


    Much of the information on street children is unpublished, and most of the published information is not in peer reviewed journals. We decided to use both published and unpublished work for this review. We performed conventional searches using Medline, Geobase, PsychLlT, and CINALH. Additional information was obtained from the resource centre at the Institute of Child Health in London, the International Child Resource Unit in San Francisco, and the Henry Durrant Institute in Geneva. We …

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