WASHINGTON — IN Vietnam they're called bui doi, meaning "dust children." In Colombia they're chinches, or "bed bugs." In Bolivia they are polillas - "moths".
They are street children, and their lives are as ephemeral as their nicknames imply. A new study from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 100 million homeless, parentless street kids worldwide - many of them drug users and easy prey for adult sexual abuse.
The WHO survey found that virtually all street children in Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, and Montreal abused drugs, for example.
Cheap highs - glue, or industrial solvents - are often their means of coping with lives of inadequate food, shelter, and care. In Rio, 55 percent of the children surveyed said they had attempted suicide.
The overwhelming majority of street children are boys. Most live in developing nations, with 40 million estimated in Latin America alone. With AIDS sweeping Africa, 16 million new orphans could end up on the streets of that continent by 2015.
But some strategies to ease their lives work, says WHO. In Lusaka, Zambia, a brick and carpentry workshop has been set up to take children off the street. And Bombay is planning street child drop-in centers to assist these youths.
In particular, aid strategies should bolster existing local organizations that deal with street kids. WHO now plans to try and bring together a variety of such groups from different countries in a broad-based, global street-child project.