On and Off the Streets: children moving between institutional care and survival on the streets
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The new social studies of childhood advocate for children to be viewed and approached as social actors who are competent participants on matters affecting them. It further suggests that childhood should be viewed as a social construct; it takes note of differences and variations in childhoods that need to be taken into account when coming up with programs and interventions for children. To researchers, this calls for a shift from doing research “on” children to doing research “with" children. It is these notions of new social studies of childhood that have guided my study. My thesis explores factors that prompt street children to escape institutional care in preference for the streets, and challenges they encounter on the streets and how they manage to survival regardless of the challenges they are exposed to. Gender differences in the way street life affects boys and girls are highlighted. The study employed qualitative research methods namely, semi-structured interviews; participant observation, focus group discussions. The total number of participants in this study was 20, 10 boys and 10 girls. 5 girls were living on the streets and the other 5 were living under institutional care but previously they had lived on the street. Accordingly, 5 boys were living on the streets and the other 5 were living under institutional care but previously they had lived on the streets. The study realizes that street children defy the widely held idea of vulnerability and dependence arising from the conviction that a “proper” childhood involves being nurtured by parents within a home and secluded from the dangers of the adult world. However, through their social network, seen as social capital, and by employing their agency, street children are able to develop survival mechanisms that sustain their lives in the absence of parents. Based on the accounts from girls, the study documents that cultural norms and gender stereotypes put girls at a disadvantage as they have limited survival mechanism and they are generally more vulnerable than boys. Knowledge based on street childrens’ perspectives and reflections about their lives is crucial as a resource for developing interventions.