George Hsia Photography
They’re called niños de la calle or children of the streets. In Peru it is estimated there are at least 5,000 street children in Lima alone. I was stunned to find out that many live on the streets even though many have families. In the poorer communities broken families are common. Many women get pregnant young and often have children with multiple partners. Because abuse is not uncommon, many children find refuge in the streets to get away from the verbal, physical and sexual abuse that occurs from stepfathers and other family members.
As they struggle with their daily lives and the feelings of rejection, boredom and hopelessness, many turn to drugs the cheapest and most accessible of which is Terokal, an industrial glue with the consistency of rubber cement. For each hit they simply use a small plastic bag, dab the inside with a bit of glue, add a little spit to keep the glue from drying too quickly and then inhale.
Both the boys and the girls that live in the streets are susceptible to exploitation, but especially the girls. With little education and very few means they are often targeted for prostitution. Some of the girls forced into prostitution are as young as 12. With it comes the risks of disease and pregnancy. Being pregnant at 15 or 16 is not uncommon. For some of the girls they continue to work even when they are pregnant. When I first met the girls on the streets I was surprised how many brought their babies out at night. They would often service a client and just pass their baby for a friend who takes care of the baby for a short while.
Many new moms are back out on the streets a week or to if not a few days after they give birth. Even though some may not immediately go back to work the street where they work at night is their world. That’s where their friends are and that’s where they socialize. For many of the girls the streets where they work has become their world.
If you’d like to help Kids in Peru, here’s how you can make a difference.
Since 2008 I have been partnering with the Not For Sale Campaign. They partner with an organization called Generación in Lima that works to fight for the rights of street children and gives them opportunities to get off the streets.
Beyond giving handouts their approach is to use sustainable solutions, investing in marginalized populations through education and income generating vocational skills training to lift them out of their current situation. I appreciate and stand by their long-term commitment to improving the lives of these children.
Here’s more information about their work.
For further reading about street kids in Peru