What Street Children are Called around the World

The different names given to street children around the world provide a good indication of how society perceives these children.

In India: “Sadak Chap” means ‘without root or roof’ or ‘carrying the stamp of the street’ (Patel, 1990: 10);

In Brazil: the word “Moleque” used to refer to street children in the dictionary has two meanings, the first “an individual with no word of honour, a bastard, rogue, knave, young boy’ the other… a younger child (up to 21 years of age) of a slave” (Rosenberg & Andrade, 1999: 115);

In Kenya: the street children are known as chokrra, a derogatory term, meaning both ‘to pick’ and a ‘kitchen’ or ‘odd-job’ boy (Johnson, 1939, cited in Davies, 2008: 314);

In Vietnam, they are known as ‘bui doi’ (the dust of life) (Noble, 1994);

In Egypt: the term used by mainstream society and the media, ‘awlaad elshaware’e’ was historically used in the late 1910’s to describe trouble makers and thieves from the lower classes who took part in the Nationalist anti British revolution. More recently, the word used is ‘sewas’ (plural for the word ‘sousa’), the small insects that destroy grains and crops. The “sewas” according to Hussein’s respondents, were defined as ‘children, boys or girls, who live in the street with minimal or mostly no contact with their parents or guardians, who depend entirely on the street for shelter without protection or guidance from any governmental or non-governmental associations, and who have developed and relatively adhere to certain skills and values that enable them to deal with street life.’ (2003: 8-9).

Lalor adds that the slang words used by the police for street children include “the plague” or “dirty faces” (Columbia), “vermin” (Ethiopia) and “mosquitoes” (Cameroon) (1999: 765).

In English, of course, the term ‘street child’ has been a successful marketing tool touching the sensitivities of the Western donors “for whom the term… represents both the violation of the sanctity of childhood and the need for moral reform” (Nieuwenhuys, 2001: 551; see Hecht, 1998: 113).

If you know the terms used for street kids in other countries, please add these in comments below. Thanks.

(Bibliography for the researchers mentioned is available on request)


  1. Pingback: Telling the Stories of Street Children in Cairo

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