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Adrift in the City: A Comparative Study of Street Children in Bogotá, Colombia, and Guatemala City

Throughout Latin America there are thousands of neglected children struggling to survive on the streets of all major urban areas. These youngsters can generally be seen lingering around parks and street corners, shining shoes, begging at crowded intersections, or singing for small change on city buses. After dark, they sleep huddled together on the pavement, using cardboard cartons and newspapers to make street accommodations as comfortable as possible. Frequently characterized by their uncleanliness and lawless activities, street children are thought of as pathetic waifs, despised and feared by the more affluent citizens. Recent estimates have cited some 40 million abandoned children in Latin America, and their numbers are said to be on the increase (Höge, 1971). This phenomenon has reached alarming levels in Brazil , where more than 20 million children are growing up in the streets, and in Colombia, where the so-called gamines (street urchins) are a highly visible mass and a principal attraction for foreign journalists. In addition,

Colombia's capital city, Bogota, has an international reputation as the "abandoned child capital of the wor ld ." While an accurate census is not possible, conservative estimates of the city's street child population are between 3,000-5,000. With little support from the traditional institutions of family, school, church, or state, their efforts to survive in the streets are often seen by the public as offensive and worthy of negative social sanctions. As a result, gamines all over Latin America are victims of violence and repression, as their basic human needs are often misunderstood and ignored.