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Caring for abandoned street children in La Paz, Bolivia
  1. C-C Huang,
  2. K Huang
  1. Boston University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Boston, USA
    ; 2
    EdM, Bolivian Street Children Project, Boston, USA
  1. Chi-Cheng Huang, Boston University School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Dowling 3 South, One Boston Medical Center Place, Boston, MA 02118, United States of America; chicheng.huang{at}

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UNICEF reported in 1986 that the number of street children ranged from 30 to 170 million worldwide.1 Despite the large number, there is a relatively small amount of literature on this neglected population. The international community knows very little about the geographical distribution of the children and the demographics worldwide. UNICEF categorises street children into four groupings. “Children at risk” are defined as children with particular risk factors that make them susceptible to spending a portion of their time on the streets. “Children on the streets” are children that occupy a portion of their time on the streets but nevertheless have a place of residence. “Children of the streets” spend a majority of their life on the street with minimal adult supervision or oversight. Finally, abandoned street children constitute the most vulnerable sector of the street children population and are solely on the streets without any adult supervision.

Street children face multiple dangers that may adversely affect not only their lives but also their social and cognitive development. Such dangers include homelessness, malnutrition, lack of education, absence of adequate healthcare, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and mental abuse.26 Studies have shown that children are resilient and many recover from neglect and trauma. Nevertheless, multiple traumatic events and periods of neglect only increase the likelihood that they will experience short- and long-term consequence such as aggressive behaviour, anxiety and delinquency. Factors that are associated with a child’s capacity not to withstand the stresses of trauma include a dysfunctional family life, lower socioeconomic status, social isolation, family history of mental illness and developmental delay. Conversely, the presence of adult supervision, higher intelligence, social support groups and education tend to lend to the child’s resiliency.7

In 1997, Huang et al conducted the first reported study on abandoned …

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  • Funding: The authors are employees of the Bolivian Street Children Project. The funding sources had no role in the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • i “Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others … he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” Robert F. Kennedy