Street Children in Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo: Spaces and identities in a struggle for survival
Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo
This research examines the dynamics of lifestyles and diversity of profiles of street children in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Macedonia and Kosovo with a particular focus on socialisation processes and identity construction within spaces of ‘the street’. The research analyses the ways in which ‘street children’ resist multifaceted marginalization and exclusion from a dominant mainstream ideology and discourse by constructing spaces in the urban areas within which they constitute their identities and develop survival strategies to contest marginalization and negative public perceptions. The research project is informed by the paradigm that ‘street children’ do not form a homogeneous, clearly defined social category, rather they constitute an entity with diverse profiles and complex lifestyles in dynamic contexts.
The research demonstrates that the discourse on ‘street children’ in the public sphere (re)produces and reinforces already existing aspects of social deprivation, marginalization and discrimination of these children and their families. The complex phenomenon of ‘street children’ is principally covered within the framework of human rights and children rights legislation and public policy such as social inclusion, health policy, educational policy and protection of children programmes. The research shows that there are limited efforts to elaborate the concept of ‘street children’ and that there is confusion in policy regarding the use of the term. In addition, ‘street children’ are seen either as victims of socioeconomic hardship and endangered by their presence in the spaces of the ‘street’ or as a possible threat to the rest of the society, i.e. the street criminalises children.
The interviews with GOs representatives and document analysis demonstrate that the phenomenon of ‘street children’ is primarily addressed through the legislation for human rights and in particular for the protection of children. The research shows two main policy approaches: (i) correctional or repressive-oriented policy approach that conceives ‘street children’ as a danger to public order whose features differentiate from mainstream childhood and as such invites intervention programmes that tend to ‘normalise’ children and (ii) protective or rehabilitative policy approaches, i.e. emphasising children needs and aiming at protecting and reintegrating them in family and mainstream society.
The research demonstrates that ‘street children’ is understood as a socially constructed category that, in practice, does not constitute a homogeneous population, making the term difficult to use for research, policymaking and intervention design. Terminology has continued to evolve to recognize children as social actors whose lives are not circumscribed by the street.
Some of the dimensions of the complex and diverse profiles of children in street situation as per the preliminary findings: males predominate among ‘street children’, although females are also represented; they fear being harmed, arrested and getting sick. They desire respect and aspire to become someone; they might work in the street to help their families and then return home, thus they are proud of what they do and they have a positive image of themselves; most of them would like to do to school and have a better future for themselves; they represent a companionship system and ‘stick’ together; they are characterised by elements of solidarity and support for one another; they value their own freedom. They demonstrate remarkable numeracy skills, communication competencies and negotiating skills.
Some of the following causes of exposure to street experience have been also identified by the preliminary data analysis: family breakdown; intense urbanisation processes; poverty; natural and man-made disasters; armed conflicts; famine; physical and sexual abuse; exploitation by adults; dislocation through migration; social exclusion/discrimination; parental rejection. The research initial findings show that the family structure, relations and employment status affects children and their work in the street. Despite ethnic backgrounds, children in the street face the same challenges and risks, but at the same time they show much strength. Children between age 14 - 18 years old are working mostly in the formal sector of the economy, such as in tailoring, shoes factory and construction work. Children who work mainly on the streets, like child vendors, beggars, car window cleaner at street corners, or children that work in farming that work in the informal (grey) sector of the economy. Preliminary data analysis shows that these children are interested in their education and they also go to school. However, the dropout rate is very high. Among those not attending school, most have a desire to go to school. Lastly, in spite of their harsh conditions, children conveyed a strong positive self-image: by reporting they were happy with themselves as a person.
The research suggests that there is a need to link research on the socialisation processes, identity construction and resilience of ‘street children’ in the spaces of the street based on their dynamic lifestyles and perspectives with policy development. This entails a deconstruction of the limits of discourse on ‘street children’ and an in-depth and critical analysis of the concept of ‘street children’ in policy development as well as a conceptualisation of children based on their rights.
The research project is envisaged in terms of two main phases: desk and field research.
- provides a critical evaluation of the international scholarship on the phenomenon by analysing the legislation, policy framework and research;
- it served to construct the conceptual framework for the research project in terms of providing a review of psychological and sociological literature as well as main approaches to conduct research with and about ‘street children’;
- it provides an overview of the country background and contextualises the phenomenon of ‘street children’ by analysing the national legislation, policy framework and research. Secondary resources, policy documents, legal acts, strategies, action plans and other reports were consulted for this purpose.
- fieldwork with ‘street children’, parents and representatives of GOs and NGOs. Initially, qualitative research with representatives of GOs and NGOs was conducted in order to gain a concrete policy background, perceptions on the phenomenon and establish entry point to the local context of ‘street children’;
- researchers investigated the socialization processes of the life in the spaces of the ‘street’ and identity construction by looking at contradictions, complexities and hardships and marginalization. In addition, the researchers explored the role of resilience for ‘street children’, i.e. the ways in which street children resist social, economic, cultural and spatial exclusion and develop survival strategies to counteract marginalization, negative perceptions and exclusion from mainstream society.
The research methods applied based on the methodology approach:
1) in-depth interviews with representatives of GOs and NGOs in each participating country in the project;
2) informal interviews with ‘street children’ in the form of ‘speech in action’, i.e. encouraging children to talk about their activities while doing them, in order to gather information on the complexities, dynamics and contradictions of ‘street children’, the diversity of their profiles and to understand their relationship with the ‘street’, their identities and coping strategies;
3) focus groups with children in day centers
No data available.
work/activities with ‘street children’ and their families; conceptualization and perceptions on ‘street children’ and their families; intervention programmes, action plans etc. intended to be developed and implemented. In order to gather information on the complexities, dynamics and contradictions of ‘street children’, the diversity of their profiles and to understand their relationship with the ‘street’, their identities and coping strategies, these methods were applied: (ii) informal interviews with ‘street children’ in the form of ‘speech in action’, i.e. encouraging children to talk about their activities while doing them. This helps to attribute meanings in relation to the context and give voices to the children’s perspectives. The sample for the informal interviews is 20 children (10-15 years old) in street situation who may or may not access services/programmes for ‘street children’ per each participating country. The informal interviews include a questionnaire collecting background information on children such as ethnic background, education, family structure etc. The informal interviews revolves around issues such as: perceived experience of working and/or living in the street; relations with work in the street; relations with family and other peers; education; perceptions of oneself; how they socialise in the street; strategies they use to cope with hardship and exclusion. The main ethical consideration for the informal interviews is that of approaching vulnerable children and adult participants as researchers. The researchers at all times introduce themselves, their organisation, the scope of their conversation in a way that is non-threating, noncoercive, non-manipulative. Consent from children and their parents (whenever possible) is required before any activities (observation, questionnaire, interview, focus-groups, photos, recording, etc.). Another ethical concern addressed is that of ensuring confidentiality and avoiding harmful consequences. Participants in no way are exposed to risks whether pertaining their identity, security, relationships, financial aspects, etc. The same concerns refer to focus groups too. (iii) In addition, focus groups were conducted with children in day centres so as to allow for children to talk freely without the intervention of the researcher, share ideas and experiences. The sample for focus groups is 30 children per country, convenient-half random stratified sampling: random sampling from a predetermined pool, i.e. ‘street children’ who may access certain services, centres, programmes; divided into small groups consisting of various age- groups, e.g. 10-12 year olds and 13-15 year olds. The focus groups were conducted in the daily care centres with the facilitation of the centres’ personnel. The focus groups were carried out by a team of two researchers (either male-female, or two females) with the assistance of one member of the daily centre. The lead researcher and daily centre personnel established a positive, comfortable and easy going relationship with the participants. The assistant researchers recorded the discussions during the focus groups and filled in the questionnaire (background information). The themes for focus groups include: introduction of each participants – children invited to talk about themselves (researcher to explore how the children describe themselves in a group dynamic); a typical day for the children – what activities it includes and draw from the elements they mention and encourage them to focus more: labour, family, peers, other actors: GOs, NGOs, etc.; relations with family; family background; role of parents and other family members; pen and pencil exercise; invite children to draw objects, people, activities from their daily lives; perceptions about the work they do; school and education; support and help from other actors: social services, GOs, NGOs, police, etc.. Some of the main challenges in conducting focus groups with ‘street children’ are engaging children in discussion; getting parents/guardians informed consent for children to participate in the focus group given the complex situation of children and their parents in street situation; accessing children’s meanings which reflect differences in language and socio-cultural background between research participants and researchers; intragroup dynamics and tensions; role of adult researcher and power relations.
|Ethical approval||No||Study type||
|Start - End date||01.08.2012 - 30.06.2012|