Over 5,000 children are currently living on the streets of Lima and the number are increasing daily. Often times they are left here without a choice, as they have lost their parents or other care persons in their life. Other times the child chooses to leave their home which may be due to physical and emotional abuse in the family. Some children are sent out to work and only allowed home once they have earned enough money. This work can sometimes even be prostitution or other damaging trades. However, the common factor they all have is that they all come from dysfunctional homes and families who deprive them of necessities such as food, education, and love.
On the streets, the children work to maintain their lives in several different ways. Some sell candies and some play music on the buses – but the amount they are able to earn is very poor. Children also find themselves forming into territorial groups, and fights between different groups often arise.
Exploitation, drugs, and deadly sickness are all part of everyday street life. Most people are not very willing to help them, as they are seen as dirty thieves and low life trash among society.
Prostitution amongst the girls living on the streets is a huge issue. They are introduced to the trade from older girls living on the streets, pimps, or sometimes even their own family. A 12-15 year old girl can earn about 80–100 soles (26 – 32 dollars) and a virgin can be paid up to 200 soles (65 dollars). This is the highest paying trade among the street children and, often left with no other choice, it is the life of many street girls. As they get older, however, prices fall dramatically and a woman in her early 20′s can only earn about 20 soles (6 dollars). But it is not only the money and shelter that drives these girls to prostitution – because of their deprivation, the momentary feeling of connection to a person or being needed or special can become an addiction for these girls, making it very difficult for these girls to change their way of living.
Drugs are one of the first elements introduced to children beginning their lives on the streets. Older children may smoke marijuana and become involved with heavier drugs, but even young children have access to mind-altering substances. The most common drug of the streets is a strong glue which they sniff to get high. This glue is easy to get and very cheap – making it extremely accessible for the children. Over years of sniffing glue, the children can develop physical problems and extreme addictions.
Illness is extremely prevalent on the streets. Tuberculosis is very common among street children. The medication for tuberculosis is free, and the children just need to pick it up at the hospital twice a week – but for a child on the streets, this is highly unlikely to happen. Many of the hospitals will not attend children from the streets with tuberculosis, as they have become too ill. This forces sick children to sleep on streets or tiny crowded rooms with other sick people that obviously make their condition exponentially worse.
Despite the struggles of their everyday life, these children are still children – they love to play, joke with each other, go to the beach, and be with their friends. They are just like any other child, except they haven’t ben given the opportunities most children receive. Their dreams of the future have been greatly disfigured, now dreaming only of a place to live, food on the table, and a family who loves them.