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Reports from
Union of African Population Studies / L'Union pour l'Etude de la Population Africaine

Num. 13, 1995

Union for African Population Studies, Rapport de Synthese / Summary Report, Numéro/Number 13, July 1995



Eugene K. Campbell*, Tidimani Ntsabane**

* Dept. of Demography, ** Dept. of Sociology, University of Botswana

Code Number: uaps 95006

Table of contents

Selection and enumeration of Street Children and non Street Children
Focus group discussion
Reason for being a street children
Family and reproductive health


Africa is the continent where population problems are most acutely felt. These problems have repercussions in all areas of life. The awareness of these problems and the dearth of african specialists on population issues had led governments to set up, with the help of the United Nations, a number of regional training institutions on Demography.

However, despite the large number of demographers trained over the last two decades, the improvements of the demographic date base and the commitment shown by governments, the taking on board of demographic factors in development strategies has remained very tentative. These mitigated results are attributable, in part, to the inadequacy of theoretical and empirical knowledge about the dynamic character of socio-economic and demographic systems and the difficulties in translating policies into a programme of action.

None the less, the greater part of the specialists who uderwent training in the field of population often find themselves left to their own devices, isolated in structures ill-prepared to utilize their expertise. Moreover, with the persistence of the economic crisis the continent is going through, african countries cannot meet their research financing requirements. These specialists rarely have the means which would allow them to undertake research work.

It is, in an effort to respond to all these problems, that UAPS got engaged in the implementation of a Small Grants Programme on Population and Development. This programme's main goal is to help junior african specialists to strenghten their research capacity in the field of the interrelations between population and development. Through this initiative, UAPS hopes to contribute not only to smooth handing-over conditions but also, and above all, to improve the existing knowledge on population issues in Africa, in an integrated and comprehensive perspective.

Since its creation, the Small Grants Programme has received over 800 requests for funding. In total 81 researchers have had to benefit from funding including 29 during the first phase of the Programme (1986-1991) and 52 during the second phase (1992-1995). Researches funded during the first phase have resulted in the production of 26 reports, 8 of which have already been published and 9 others are being edited. These researches cover a wide range of topical issues. They consisted in case studies which deeply explored the problems studied (urbanization, rural migration, street children, women's status, reproduction strategies, etc.).

By and large, the Small Grants Programme's harvest is impressive both in terms of research training and the results obtained. This Programme's merits are all the more important as its design and thrust do respond to current concerns. It has adopted an open perspective on population issues which integrates economic, cultural and strictly demographic aspects. What's more, it lays the stress on research training, in the very countries, thus contributing to the maintainance of skilled people on the spot and the development of the capacity of national institutions. Finally, through its philosophy, the Programme works towards regional integration and cooperation between francophones and anglophones.

The present study which is part of the reports produced within the framework of the Programme, mainly focusses on the growing phenomenon of "Street Children" associated with rapid urbanization in under developped country. This issue of children's future was already touched on during the first phase of the Programme through a study on the rehabiliation of street children in a french speaking country (Congo). This research not only provides the opportunity to further explore the phenomenon but also to go into comparative analysis.

In fact, the two studies helped reveal the distressing problem of a rising number of youth growing uneducated and illbred. Parental negligence was found to be one of the factors most associated with the phenomenon. Other factors are juvenile delinquency, poverty, etc. But, contrarily to a common belief, the present study found no evidence of association between single parenthood and the likelihood to be a street children. These findings challenge the families, community and government.

I wish to congratulate Campbell and Ntsabane on the innovative and interesting work they offer us in the following pages. Moreover, I would like to thank all those who, directly or indirectly (donors, grantees' supervisors and research report readers), have contributed to the completion of this study.

May this Programme further stimulate research on the complex relationships which exist between population and development and enable researchers to fulfil their scientific responsability in the battle for development in Africa.

Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the late Richard HOROWITZ, former regional representative of the Ford Foundation for Africa who, along with Sidiki COULIBALY, the current UNFPA Director in Senegal, have launched the Small Grants Programme.

Prof. Mumpasi LUTUTALA
UAPS President


Throughout the world, there are children who have drifted away from their homes or families of orientation. They are commonly referred to as "runaway" children. Since their usual place of domain is the street, they are also referred to as street children. In the towns of Botswana, particularly Gaborone, a cursory glance is sufficient for one to observe a considerable presence of such children. These children are not at school and are separated from the home for the most part of the day with the result that they are deprived of parental care and guidance in their formative years. The consequences are negative social and physical developments for the child and the wider society.

Apart from figures on child abuse (Childline, 1992) and a recent research report on street children (Mogome-Ntsatsi and Tau, 1993), there is no statistical evidence to substantiate speculations about the factors which influence the occurrence of street children phenomenon in Botswana’s urban centres. These children stay on the street for the most part of the day. They are not in school even though they are of school going age. They are usually tardy in appearance, and are often a common nuisance to the average citizen in shopping malls. Their presence therefore causes some concern to both the public and authorities.

They are denied access to the basic rights of children, and are exposed to physical and sexual abuse, hunger and the occasional hostile weather conditions. If the phenomenon were to become epidemic, then the labour force could be replaced by a cohort of people least likely to maintain the current state of buoyant economy Botswana enjoys.

Central to much of the speculations about these children have been questions about who they are; where they come from; why they prefer the street over school and home; and what their attitudes to school and career are. Several factors are usually considered to be responsible for the prevalence of street children in Botswana. Some of these are conflicts within the family, physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children, single parenthood, poor parenting, poverty, termination of education and peer influence, all of which activate the desire to seek excitement outside parental control (UNICEF, 1992). These, however, are merely speculative because they are mostly based on what has been found from empirical research on the subject in countries outside Botswana.

It is against this general background that this study was undertaken. The broad objective of the study is to identify areas of habitation of male street children in Gaborone, their origins as well as previous and current socio-economic characteristics. Their reasons for being on the street as well as their attitudes towards family health issues were also examined.

The specific objectives are:

1)To examine the socio-economic characteristics of male street children and correlates of their behaviour, as well as assess their future occupational needs.

2)To examine the factors which influence street children’s decision to leave home.

3)To investigate the attitudes of street and non-street children toward family planning and family health.

4)To find out if the attitudes and behaviour of non-street children vary significantly from those of street children so that the latter’s are consistent with what constitutes delinquency.

5)To observe the attitudes and behaviour of parents or guardians of children who had run away before.

6)To identify policy actions which could help curb the street children phenomenon.


There is no data on the size, characteristics, etc. of street children in Botswana. Most of what has been documented is speculative. The study was therefore exploratory and required some methodological flexibility. Two instruments were used. One was a sample survey questionnaire. The other was a tape recorder in focus group sessions. Stratified sampling designs were used to select samples from three units - i.e., male street children, teenage non-street children who live with their parents and parents/guardians of street children.

Selection and enumeration of street children and non-street children.

As there was no information on the frame from which sample street children were to be selected, it was initially decided to take a sample of 200 street children. The sample was purposively selected, taking into consideration their haphazard distribution throughout Gaborone. The sample size was not statistically determined for the same reason that a purposive sample selection was made. The street children were generally interviewed in places where they normally gather (ie the shopping malls and dump site). But some were found in Old Naledi, where the majority of them lives.

The eligibility of non-street children for inclusion in the sample was guided by our knowledge of the characteristics of homes to which they belong. Since the poorest area in Gaborone is Old Naledi, it was chosen as the primary unit for selection of non-street children who are at high risk of leaving their families and moving out to the streets. The initial decision was that 150 plots should be selected systematically, with a random start, from Old Naledi to two other areas.

An additional 50 non-street children from middle income homes were purposively selected and interviewed. The inclusion of this population in the sample was premised on the assumption that benefits enjoyed by these children, through their parents’ financial and emotional investments in them, make it unlikely that they would want to leave their homes permanently. These children constitute a control group in the examination of factors which motivate children to run away from their homes to the street.

Parents and guardians in Goborone whose child had ever been on the street were targeted for enumeration. Owing to anticipated difficulty of identifying this population, the sample was obtained through purposive selection, which made it possible for a parent or guardian of a street child to be interviewed. Where the child was from a two parent/guardian family, the mother was interviewed.

Breakdownwn of Sample Population

The expected and actual number of sample populations interviewed are as follows:

Expected Actual

Street children 200 239

Non-street children (lower class) 150 209

Non-street children (middle class) 50 51

Parents/Guardians of street children 150 155

Total sample 550 654

Focus Group Discussions

The second instrument was the use of focus group discussions. Though the two techniques are different, they tended to yield the same or complementary information. Four focus group sessions were conducted. They were formed around:

i) mothers or female guardians of street children (6)

ii) fathers or male guardians of street children (6)

iii) male street children (9)

iv) female street children (6)

For recording purposes, we used a tape recorder and note taking. Items recorded included the characteristics of the children, why they were on the street and not at school and their survival strategies on the street. The discussions also sought their parental background, relationship with authorities, eg police, social workers, NGOs, as well as their opinions on the street children syndrome. The purpose of the discussions was to present a qualitative view on street children in order to add depth and clarity to the quantitative data from the structured questionnaire.


The methods of analysis involve mostly percentages. The chi square was extensively used to ascertain significance levels where it was expedient to test for possible associates between variables. In a few cases, correlation analysis was done. Information from the focus group discussions was analyzed through data transformation from tapes and notes.


About 90% of the children on the streets of Gaborone are boys. The reason for this observation may be because the boys are involved in more visible economic activities which take place on the street. On the other hand, the girls are less visible because they are subject to stricter, less public conditions at home. Owing to the extremely small number of street girls in our sample, the analysis in the study covers only street boys.

The age range of people who live on the street is about 5-24 years. That for children is about 5-19 years. The mean age at which children become streetwise is 14.5 years. They are children of school-going age who could benefit from parental love, guidance and discipline. They however are spending the most impressionable period of their lives on the street with dire consequences for their chances in the job market now and in the future. About 18% of the boys slept on the street when they first left their homes, while 71% stayed with their relatives. The rest (11%) stayed with families of their friends.

Forty-two percent of the street boys have admittedly engaged in street fights. This reflects the violence associated with being streetwise. However, in comparison with street children in Nairobi and Namibia, those in Gaborone are somewhat calm. Contrary to our thesis that street children have an inherent anger directed at those who are affluent, 74% of those in Gaborone expressed admiration towards the rich.


The majority of respondents is characterised by low levels of educational attainment. 95% of the boys had either never attended school or had dropped out of primary school. This pattern seems to be consistent with the educational status of our sample of parents or guardians of children who had ever been on the street. Over half of them had never been to school; and among those that had, 90% stopped at the primary school level. Meanwhile, over 70% of parents of low income non-street children and all the parents of middle income non-street children were formally educated.

Among the children in the focus group sessions it was found that females had higher educational attainment levels than their male counterparts. Many of the children cited parents' and guardians' inability to meet their school uniform needs, sports fees and feeding fees as reasons for quitting school.

Reason for being a street child

From the street children, two types of reasons for being on the street were examined. One was the actual reason (ie that which is determined after they became streetwise) and the other was their perceived reason (ie why they feel children run away from home). Where juvenile delinquency featured highly among their perceived reasons, the modal actual reasons were related to economic factors. Other reasons included poverty, parental negligence and harassment at home. The reasons provided by non-street children were more or less consistent with the perceived reasons of the street children. The aspect of parental negligence was particularly emphasised by the middle income non-street children.


About 80% of the street boys were engaged in car washing and petty trading or had no specific occupation. The daily income gained from car washing, in particular, serves as an incentive for children to stay on the street. Some street boys earn as much as 50.0 pula, on average, per day. While there was a significant relationship between the occupations of mothers and guardians of street children and non-street children who lived in low income communities (p < .01), there was no such relationship between the occupations of mothers and guardians of street children and non-street children who were in middle income families (p > .05). Future occupational aspirations of street children are fairly invariant and are inconsistent with those of their parents. Most street boys desire to become soldiers or policemen. Meanwhile, there was considerable variation in the occupational aspirations of low and, especially, middle income non-street children. Generally, the street children have a very bleak occupational future. With little or no basic education or training in any skills, their job prospects in a highly competitive job market are highly uncertain. The jobs they do now (i.e., car washing, etc) do not offer any opportunity for development of talents and skills.


The most speculative cause of children being on the street is the issue of familial environment; and the most commonly cited cause is the prevalence of single parenthood. From our focus group discussants, though at variance with our survey data, the majority of street children had both parents alive and living together.

Still, the results of the quantitative survey tend to challenge the theory associating street children syndrome with single parenthood. Probably because single motherhood in Botswana is common, and several such mothers earn fairly high incomes, the study does not reveal enough evidence of single motherhood being responsible for children becoming streetwise. There are, however, strong indications that the street children syndrome is a function of poverty. Yet, poverty does not seem to be an isolated significant factor. It appears that the genetic formation of children plus parental role modelling performance added to poverty, contribute to children becoming streetwise.

Consistent with observations about the family sizes of households from which street children originate, it was found that the mean number of children ever born (or sired) by parents/guardians of street children is high (5.19 children). The mean number of children desired by these parents was, however, slightly less (4.91 children).

It is evident from the field that parents' views on the factors which influenced their children's decision to be on the streets are somewhat inconsistent with those of the street children. Generally, the parents' and guardians of children who had been on the street blamed it on juvenile delinquency. But the street and non-street children maintain that part of the reason for the street children syndrome is parental negligence. Some parents/guardians did observe that their child was unhappy before he/she ran away from home. But over 60% of them were not aware of any symptom related to the child's decision to run away. The indications therefore are that parents and guardians were unable to correctly assess the needs or desires of their children/wards before they ran away from home. Their perceptions regarding children becoming streetwise seem to be based more on what they observed outside, rather than within their homes.

The study revealed that female parents spent, on average, more time at home with their children than their male counterparts. Additionally, alcohol consumption does have an influence on the amount of time a parent spent at home with the children (X2 = 14.066, p < .01). Whereas 66% of parents of street children wished their children would return home and, especially, proceed with their education, about 30% wanted their children to proceed with being on the street.

The hypothesis that migration (of families and children) does contribute to children being on the street could not be tested because over 95% of the street boys were migrants. The proportions for parents and guardians of children who had ever been on the street as well as for non-street children were equally high. Still, this does not nullify the probability that migration among the poor and unskilled does pave the way for the street children syndrome.

Family and reproductive health

Family planning is well known, but poorly practised, among street children. The street boys are highly irresponsible in sexual activities. Meanwhile, non-street children from low and, especially, middle income families are fairly responsible in the sexual behaviour. The street boys are more prone to having multiple sexual partners than their non-street counterparts. On the question of HIV/AIDS, the awareness level is quite high among the street boys. Still, the proportion that practises safe sex at all times is very low. For most, the condom is discarded soon after the girlfriends are considered stable and reliable.

It was clear from the field that street children in Gaborone do not enjoy the best of health. Though several of them can afford to buy food prepared under hygienic conditions, many still eat unhygienic food. For some, the dump site is the source of their daily bread. Generally, their level of personal hygiene is quite poor. They also show signs of malnutrition. Unlike non-street children, drug and alcohol abuse is common among street children. Glue is most frequently used to attain a desired level of intoxication. The exposure to these vices is associated with the duration of children's stay on the street (p < .05). It seems that poor role modelling by parents and guardians has significant impact on the behaviour of street children. Parents or guardians whose children had been on the street consume substantial amount of alcoholic beverages daily. From experience in the field, many of these people were intoxicated by 2.00pm.


Both the survey and focus group discussions have highlighted several essential characteristics of street children. These are:

-that the children do not live with adults, but instead live in and among a community of children.

-that these children either work for themselves or for each other in order to find sustenance and pleasure.

-that the children are driven primarily by economic needs.

-that they do maintain some form of contact with their families.

-the children begin their life on the street by a gradual process. Rather than arriving on the streets abruptly, they leave home in a measured manner, at first staying for a night or two, then gradually spending more time away from home.

-that the children and their parents/guardians have little or no education. The parents are employed with no regular sources of income. The job prospects for both children and parents do not hold much promise, given their levels of training.

-both the parents and children may differ in terms of the causes of the phenomenon of street children. But they agree that there does not seem to be any future in pursuing their present circumstances.


There is a relationship between poverty, delinquency and being a street child. As Covin (1982) observed, delinquent children have generally experienced some parental rejection. Though most adults blame their poor educational performance on teenage pregnancy and failure to concentrate on school work, the street children in our sample strongly believe that their parents are partly responsible for their current status. It is logical therefore that their interaction with adults is rare. But juvenile delinquency may be partly explained by the gene formation as well as malnutrition at infancy (as well as during pregnancy. Studies of teenagers in Oje (in Ibadan, Nigeria) and the USA point towards the disparity in children's intellectual achievement being a function of the socioeconomic environment of the family of orientation (Lloyd and Easton, 1977; Oyewole, 1984; Haveman et al, 1991). The factors which explain this situation most are unemployment, malnutrition, disease prevalence, poor hygiene and absence of cognitive stimulation. Associated with this is the realization that in developing countries, one of the problems related to persistent alcohol consumption is malnutrition of the child (Grant, 1989).

In view of the foregoing, the following policy recommendations are made:

1.Prepare a goal-orientated programme for attaining control of alcohol consumption, including appropriate methods for evaluating the programme.

2.Educate high school students about the adverse social and health effects of alcohol addiction. The educational programme should be as vigorous as that which is devoted to AIDS awareness.

3.Counsel pregnant mothers and sick parents in especially low income communities as part of the training of medical students.

4.Organize community-based discussion sessions between social worker volunteers and parents who are economically disadvantaged.

5.Develop a training and rehabilitation centre for street children.

The news media, including radio, television and screening of relevant educational films in poor communities could assist in the implementation of such programmes. Funding and other assistance could be obtained from the national government, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, ILO, World Bank, USIAD and national NGOs.


  • Childline, 1992,Childline Botswana Trust Fund, (A Handbook), Gaborone. Covin, T.M., 1982,"A Perspective on the Family and Juvenile Delinquency", Early and Middle Childhood: Growth, Abuse and Delinquency, R. Greene and T. Yawkey (eds), Technomic Publishing Co. Inc., Connecticut, 183-191.

  • Grant, M. 1989,"Controlling Alcohol Abuse", Controlling Legal Addictions, D. Robinson et al (eds), Macmillan Press Ltd., London, 63-83.

  • Haveman, R., B. Wolfe and J. Spaulding, 1991, "Childhood events and Circumstances Influencing High School Completion", Demography, Vol.28, No.1, 133-157.

  • Lloyd, B.B. and B. Easton, 1977, "The Intellectual Development of Yoruba Children", Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, Vol.8.

  • Mogome-Ntsatsi, K. and O.S. Tau, 1993, A Profile of Street Children in Three Urban Centres of Botswana: Gaborone, Mahalapye and Francistown, UNICEF, Gaborone.

  • Oyewole, A.I., 1984, "Home and School: Effects of Micro-Ecology on Children's Educational Achievement", Nigerian Children: Developmental Perspectives, H.V. Curran (ed), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 156-173.

  • UNICEF, 1992,Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances, UNICEF, Gaborone.

Copyright 1995 - Union for African Population Studies.

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