The day was hot and dusty on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. A dirt-spattered taxi rattled up to the border crossing office, and a young American tourist climbed out and began pulling his hiker’s backpack from the trunk. Immediately a young Cambodian boy, about 10 years old, ran up to him. “Money, money, please give me money,” he began chanting, holding a dirty cap up below the tourist’s face. The tourist was worn from his travels and from the dozens of street children he had already encountered (and from having them pick his pockets three times). “No, no,” he said, struggling with his pack.
Then he realized the boy was deftly taking money from his shirt pocket. Snatching the boy’s hand roughly, he plucked the bills back again. The boy scampered off towards a 20-year-old man who was watching him. As the tourist shouldered his pack, he felt a twinge of regret. This boy had a hard life ahead of him. The only people to care for him would be his handlers, those who forced him to beg and steal. He needed to be shown a little grace in such a hopeless situation. Taking out some of the bills, the tourist walked back towards the boy who seemed suddenly uncertain, cagey.
The tourist handed the bills to the boy and said simply, “Jesus loves you. ” Then he turned and walked away to the border crossing, bracing himself for the crowds of street children he knew would soon be clinging to him, begging for money. And as he looked down, he realized his camera case, hanging by a strap, was empty. The boy and his handler were nowhere to be seen. 1 In the world today there are estimated to be as many as 100 million street kids. 2 What is a Christian response to these children? What methods can be used to effectively help them? Are a few dollars or gospel tracts given to these children sufficient?
Are homeless shelters enough? Is life-skills training the answer? Can secular organizations be more or less effective than religious organizations? What structural or political changes are necessary? Practitioners should remember their theories for child development are more than just theories. As a World Vision report on children said, “well-meaning measures can often have disastrous consequences. “3 The best answers for these children should not be founded on the latest psychological or development theory. The answer to these street children’s deep needs is transformational development based on biblical principles and a biblical worldview.
Only through holistically addressing their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs can these children truly be transformed and develop healthy and hopeful lives. The two approaches of secularism and religious mysticism must be avoided. Secularism tends to mostly address children’s physical condition while ignoring their emotional and especially their spiritual emptiness. This is putting band-aids on knife-wounds. Religious mysticism, on the other hand, may sometimes tend to focus its attention on spiritual development and pays less attention to their social and physical needs.
This is whispering comforting words to an abandoned baby but leaving it on the doorstep. And the social and physical needs of these abandoned children are great. Street Kids: The Problem How Many? It’s difficult to estimate the exact number of street children. Definitions of street children vary: Is a street child one who lives on the street without family, or with family? Can runaways who have a home to return to be called street children? What about those who live at home but spend most of their time on the streets, out of school?
It is also hard to keep an accurate count because many street children are not registered or counted in government censuses. Finally, street children often move locations or even cities. But we still have some estimates, based on varying criteria: more than 1. 5 million in America,4 11 million in India, 250,000 in Kenya, Ethiopia 150,000. 5 In Cambodia where the street kid described above lived, estimates range widely from 1,000 to 10,000, depending on definitions and counts. 6 These numbers may seem small compared to other countries such as India, but even 1,000 abandoned children living alone on the streets are too many.
Additionally, most street children are boys; only 3% to 30% are girls. 7 Why are they on the streets? There are almost as many reasons why street kids are on the streets are there are individuals. Some of them are orphans with no known family to care for them. Some have families but have run away. In some cases family situations are worse than life on the streets because of lack of food or abuse. As one 17-year-old girl said, “I have been a street girl since my father made a ‘woman’ of me. I carry on in the world but I am really dead.
“8 In some third world countries it’s not uncommon for parents or relatives to sell small children for money, either to beggar rings, slave labor, or the sex trade. Children who escape from these situations often prefer life on the street to going back to their families who sold them. And, of course, there are some who ran away simply out of rebellion. These are more common in developed in countries than developing countries. Dangers they face Children on the streets face a myriad of dangers. Girls especially face danger on the streets because they tend to be weaker and more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Additionally, girls seem more willing than boys to put up with abuse at home. When they leave home, however, they are less likely to return. 9 Many children are picked up by beggar rings. As in Oliver Twist, the ring owners will force the children to beg or steal for them and give them little in return. One 8-year-old boy told about his treatment: They beat me a lot because I’m not a good beggar. They injected me with some kind of medicine. After I received the injection, I could beg a whole day and night, with no appetite or sleep.
Most of my friends received the injection too. My friend and I tried to escape many times, but it didn’t work. One day I was caught by the Thai police, who put us in detention and deported us to Cambodia. I don’t want return to Thailand, I can beg in Poipet. I am afraid that they will beat me if I can’t achieve the requirements. 10 Children face health dangers since they don’t have parental care, much less health care, and are exposed to the elements. Some aid practitioners take it upon themselves to give street kids haircuts, nail clippings, and other sanitary aids.
But the children are a menace to themselves as well, when they begin taking drugs. One aid worker in Phnom Penh said that “79% of the kids are hooked on something. It used to be glue. But now glues is falling off in popularity. Yaba (methyl amphetamine) is now the most popular drug, with heroine making a huge climb in recent years. “11 Street children also perpetrate violence on each in gang-style situations. Most disturbing is the treatment they receive from the police, who often beat them, take bribes from them, sexually harass them, or even kill them.
What theory of development can address both the physical and implicit emotional and spiritual problems of these street children? How should Christian practitioners bring peace and physical and spiritual development to these oppressed? For this survey I will take and apply some general transformational development topics found in Bruce Bradshaw’s book, “Bridging the Gap: Evangelism, Development, and Shalom. “13 In this book Bradshaw introduces chapters on the developmental concepts of Shalom, worldview, contextualization, management, education, environment, economics, healing, powers, holism, and transformation.
Here we will examine how five of these can be applied to street children transformational development. “Shalom: The bridge between development and evangelism”14 Bradshaw’s concept of shalom is one of holistic blessing. Non-western Christians, says Bradshaw, “esteem God not only for providing people with an ultimate purpose and meaning in life, but also because he provides for their every need. In fact, God’s provision for their daily needs is more central to their faith than his providing an ultimate meaning for their lives.
“This is a caution for Christian practitioners who view the physical as subordinate to the spiritual. In addressing the needs of the street children, Christian practitioners must be careful to address the daily needs the children have. It will be through meeting their daily needs that they will come to know God in a real way. Therefore, practical ministries such as hair-cutting, shelters, food services, and vocational training are certainly legitimate for the Christian developer; and more than legitimate, they are necessary for communicating God’s character and reality in a tangible way to needy children.