Children, usually between 7 and 15 years of age, for whom the street or the city has become a habitual abode and/or source of livelihood are often inadequately protected, supervised or directed by adults. They are obliged to scavenge, steal, beg, clean windscreens, sell cigarettes, traffic in drugs and prostitute themselves in an attempt to face a life that offers little hope. At night, when the cinemas and shops close, they often form group and sleep wherever they can find shelter. As a result they suffer mental and physical deprivation for which society, in the long run, must pay. Such children are not merely orphans and drop-outs, but the outcasts from families subjected to intolerable stress of poverty and living conditions. Public authorities are rendered impotent, and prefer to disguise the problem by using such terms as "disadvantaged children" or children "in difficulty".
A 1982 UNESCO report estimated the number of street youths as 200,000 in Istanbul; 10,000 in Bogota; and 2 million in Rio de Janeiro. Five million are estimated to be in Africa, a number that is rapidly growing. The numbers increase rapidly due to population displacements, war and famine, the AIDS pandemic and rapid urbanization. In all there are an estimated variously between 30 and 70 million such children world-wide, of whom the majority are in Latin America, particularly in middle-income countries such as Brazil and Mexico rather than in the poorest or the richest countries. There are also street children in western countries, an estimated one million in the European Community and 20,000 in New York.
In the Phillipines there are about 1.5 million streetchildren and beggars and the number is increasing because of the economic crisis. Most of the children are believed either to have been abandoned by their parents or have run away from broken families. The children beg for alms from motorists and left-over food from customers in eateries. Some of the young boys and girls on the streets are known to have fallen prey to gangs peddling solvents or cough syrups to make them "high" to forget their problems. Some women coddle babies, whom they reportedly "rent" from their real mothers to increase their chances of getting alms, in plying their trade, exposing the infants to the rain, sun and pollution. Some tag along toddlers, naked from the waist up, who help the women knock on the windows of motorists' cars to beg for loose change. The increasing number of beggars using infants was attributed to syndicates out to earn a living using the young children.