Impact case study
Growing up on the streets
Published on 12 May 2022
Bringing the voices of street children and youth to bear on global policy through UN General Comment.
Growing up on the Streets (2012-19) empowered some of the most marginalised members of society to advocate for their rights, leading to national and global policy changes in multiple countries. Led by Professor Lorraine van Blerk, this award-winning project has achieved sustained impact through representation of street children and youth at the highest level, resulting in 1,044 young people from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe directly informing the UN General Comment 21 on Children in Street Situations 2017 (UNGC21).
Despite widespread ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the rights of street children are rarely recognised or upheld. Growing up on the Streets was a research collaboration between the University of Dundee and UK-based charity StreetInvest to try and change this situation.
The project was innovative in scale, scope and in methodology. It involved young people as participants and researchers, empowering them to co-produce ethnographic research that positioned their self-defined capabilities (rather than vulnerabilities) as central to understanding their lives and advocating for their rights. It allowed the participants to shape the narrative around their lives and reposition themselves as valuable citizens and members of communities.
The research demonstrated the gap between realities and prejudices about street children and youth, revealing the complexity of life for young people for whom the street is their home, source of income and identity.
The findings have been shared globally through the development of bespoke training and a Knowledge Exchange Training Pack (KETP), directly informing the Key Principles of UNGC21. The associated KETP was adapted for the consultation process, allowing the voices of street children/youth to be heard.
This was the first-time young people had been consulted and their voices included in a General Comment. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child described their participation as “inspirational” and “ground-breaking”, and the CEO of The Consortium for Street Children described the KETP as “invaluable” in their UN work, noting that “street-connected young people have contributed to and informed a much-needed legal instrument at the highest level”. Comic Relief stated that the methods used to engage with young people were “the global benchmark for consulting with young people in matters that affect their lives.”
Since 2016 the KETP and the research findings have impacted on national policies in multiple countries, with outcomes ranging from improved access to health care for street children, to the training of street children/youth as ‘street champions’ to research and advocate for support to tackle discrimination and abuse.
Meaningful engagement of street children/youth in UNGC21 implementation continues and has influenced national policies for street children in countries including DRC, Brazil, India, Uruguay, and the Philippines. The KETP is being adapted into an Advocacy Resource Pack for 150 NGOs in 135 countries.
Key findings that particularly informed the UNGC21 principles are:
- Street children and youth are deprived of basic rights such as food, shelter, fair and just treatment, health care, education, and protection.
- States globally fail to protect street children and youth against rights violations.
- Street children and youth have the right to be on the streets and should be supported to access identity documents and legitimate work to achieve citizenship and contribute to society/communities.
- Street children and youth are experts in their own lives and, with training, have skills, knowledge and insights that can shape policy, practice and the environments in which they live.
- Young people are capable of creating networks of support while on the street and forced removal damages their resilience and survival strategies, challenging orthodoxies about street children/youth as being safer off streets.
UN Sustainable Development Goals