Global Social Justice

Published on 10 June 2021

Growing Up on the Streets is an innovative participatory research project following the lives of street children and youth as they grow up on the streets of African cities.

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Growing Up on the Streets has empowered some of the most marginalised members of society to advocate for their rights, leading to national and global policy changes.

Led by Professor Lorraine van Blerk with researcher Janine Hunter and carried out in collaboration with the UK-based charity StreetInvest, the award-winning, participatory research project explored the lives of street youth in three African cities. It has achieved sustained impact through representation of street children/youth in discussions around their capabilities, reducing violence on the streets, and creating equality and sustainable livelihoods for homeless young people across the globe.

Growing Up on the Streets revealed the complexity of life for young people for whom the street is their home, source of income and identity. It allowed the participants to shape the narrative around their lives and reposition themselves as valuable citizens and members of communities.

Working in Ghana, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Growing Up on the Streets created a network of hundreds of street children and youth, 18 of whom acted as researchers, gathering information on the lives of their peers. With over 3,000 interviews and focus groups, it forms the largest ever database of the lives of young street people.

Growing Up on the Streets research showing that street children are deprived of their basic rights directly informed the UN General Comment No. 21 on Children in Street Situations (UNGC21), while 200 participants formed the African consultations, ensuring their voices were heard, for the first time in a General Comment.

A Knowledge Exchange Training Pack (KETP) was developed to help encourage the effective involvement of street children/youth in evidence gathering and policy. Across 11 countries 1044 street children were trained using the KETP by 41 different NGOs, feeding into UNGC21 consultations, and it has since been adapted for 150 NGOs in 135 countries.

UNGC21 provides guidance to states on developing comprehensive, long-term national strategies for children in street situations and is a key tool for advocates campaigning for street children’s rights nationally and globally. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child described this global participation of young street people as “inspirational” and “ground-breaking”.

Professor van Blerk has subsequently led the Youth Transitions in Protracted Crises project exploring the experiences of refugees in Uganda and Jordan, and also works with rural youth in Malawi and Lesotho to generate evidence about effects of social cash transfer schemes in intervening in and potentially transforming the structural power relations that underlie the reproduction of poverty.

Read more about Growing Up on the Streets, and Social Cash Transfers, Generational Relations and Youth Poverty Trajectories.


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Story category Equity and inclusion, Research