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Helen Little

Street Children With Disabilities: Discrimination

two young boys running in muddy clothes, smiling at the camera.

Impacts Of Living with Disability As A Street Child

Ableism – discrimination against disability

The negative treatment of people living with disabilities is known as ableism (1). Sadly, this is experienced by almost all people living with disability at some point in their lives. People living in financial difficulty or poverty experience greater levels of disability-related stigma (2). The level of discrimination can also depend on an individual’s type of impairment (2). For example, children with intellectual disabilities often experience greater levels of exclusion than those with physical disability (2).

Amar, a 17-year old boy from Yemen was interviewed for a study on disability and poverty (3). He is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. He explained that he is made to feel uncomfortable when he uses sign language on the street (3). People often stare at him. This is not uncommon and sadly many other children with disability share his experience (4). It is also common for parents of children with disability to be made to feel like outsiders within their own communities (5). There is evidence that this also contributes to their rejection from jobs (5). This can have a further negative effect on a child’s health, with some feeling like they will only be further mistreated if they try to seek help from healthcare professionals (3).

Education as a street child with disability

The discrimination and judgement experienced by children often adds to the difficulties street children have with school (6). For example, according to Street Child, almost half of the children interviewed felt that discrimination was their main barrier to attending school (7). As children also experience discrimination due to disability, street children with disability can have a very difficult time trying to fit in. They can experience discrimination due to both factors, where already belonging to another disadvantaged group can make a child feel even more marginalised (8).

Tackling discrimination against street children and disability

The discrimination faced by street children urgently needs addressed, as negative attitudes prevent many from seeking help. This prevents many from receiving care when they need it (3).

Although it may be that attending specialised education for street children would result in less isolation, some projects such as ‘LEAP’ feel that it is important to include them in mainstream education. They also work to strengthen the systems which protect street and disabled children (9). This project is run by Chance for Childhood through partners in Western Kenya. They aim to improve education for street children and those living with disability (9).

In addition, organisations including Street Girls Aid are working to improve education, nutrition and the safety of street-connected children (10). In partnership with Chance for Childhood, this has helped many children like Ebo, a boy called from Accra who at 18 months old could no longer walk due to malnutrition. Through support by Street Girls Aid, Ebo and his mother were given the support they needed to improve Ebo’s health, and with time Ebo could not only walk again but he also joins in with singing and dancing with other children in his community (10). This is just one example of the good work improving the health of street children.

Impacts of disability on health, education and discrimination in street children

Overall, it is very likely that living with disability as a street child exacerbates the difficulties experienced by street children. They often suffer from poverty and poorer health, worse education and greater discrimination than non-disabled children and those not living on the street (11; 12; 13). However, organisations have together made some excellent steps towards better inclusion and protection of disabled street children. We hope to have highlighted their significance, while there are also many other interventions doing great work. Overall, the articles in this series aim to raise the awareness of the various disabilities and difficulties experienced by disabled street children. This group is often overlooked and therefore need our continued support (14). If interested in the other articles in this series, or indeed any of our other blog updates.



  1. Definition of ABLEISM [Internet]. 2021 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from:
  2. UK Department for International Development and other Government departments. Disability stigma in developing countries. K4D helpdesk service, Institute of Development Studies; 2018.
  3. Eid A, Ingstad B. Disability and Poverty: A Global Challenge. Bristol; 2011.
  4. Kuper H, Monteath-van Dok A, Wing K, Danquah L, Evans J, Zuurmond M et al. The Impact of Disability on the Lives of Children; Cross-Sectional Data Including 8,900 Children with Disabilities and 898,834 Children without Disabilities across 30 Countries. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 24 August 2021];9(9):e107300. Available from:
  5. Rohwerder, B. (2018) Disability Stigma in Developing Countries. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.
  6. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:
  7. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 24 August 2021]. Available from:
  8. Children with disabilities [Internet]. 2021 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from:
  9. LEAP from the Street – Learning, Educating And Protecting: Our new education project for street children in Kisumu, Kenya. | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. 2016 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from:
  10. The streets are stealing children’s futures | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from:
  11. Kuper H, Monteath-van Dok A, Wing K, Danquah L, Evans J, Zuurmond M et al. The Impact of Disability on the Lives of Children; Cross-Sectional Data Including 8,900 Children with Disabilities and 898,834 Children without Disabilities across 30 Countries. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 24 August 2021];9(9):e107300. Available from:
  12. Clark J. Realising street children’s right to education | CSC [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children. 2019 [cited 25 August 2021]. Available from:
  13. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:
  14. Our work / Toybox [Internet]. [cited 26 August 2021]. Available from:


The Link Between Poverty and Disability in Street Children

Disabled girl with one leg using crutches to move around in the street, wearing a unicef backpack


As we briefly covered in disability in street children, disability is often connected to poverty (1). It is estimated that up to 30% of street children are living with disability (2). This makes disability very common among those living on the street. Many street children also experience severe poverty. Therefore, there is a strong link between poverty and disability in street children. This is a vicious cycle, with each factor exacerbating the effects of the other. Collectively, they have huge influence over the lives of street children (3).

Both poverty and disability are being continually studied by research bodies and charities. A better understanding of the causes of poverty and disability and the relationship between them can help put resources to better use. This understanding helps to improve policy making. Disability is a very serious issue in low and middle income countries. As such, reducing both rates of poverty and disability is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (1). Part of this hopes to improve rates of disability among street children.

What is poverty?

There are many ways to define poverty. It is generally associated with factors such as socioeconomic status, income and location (1). However, the cut-off point for poverty is less clear when used in the context of street children. In which case, it is more effective to grade poverty in terms of a reduced access to healthcare and a shortage of basic resources (1). The little healthcare received by many street children increases their risk of disability (1).

Disability – a cause of poverty

Sadly, those living with disability are far more likely to also be living in poverty (1). There are various reasons for the poverty gap between disabled and non-disabled people. Some of this can be explained by the way society is currently structured. At present, the way in which we live is more focussed on what able-bodied people require (1). This makes it much harder to live life with disability. While making overall living more difficult, this also makes it harder for people living with disability to get jobs and to earn the money needed for food and living. This promotes exclusion and increases the risk of those living with disability ending up in poverty (4). Exclusion and discrimination make it more likely for a child living with disability to end up on the street (3).

In addition, children are also more likely to have to work on the street when a member of their family is living with disability (2). While this can be very dangerous, it is sometimes seen necessary for a family to survive. For example, in Ghana, many children work on the street to financially support a disabled family member (2).

Poverty – a cause of disability

Poor health

It is far more likely that a person will develop a physical impairment when living in poverty (1). This is most often due to poor health. Street children are much less likely to have access to essential resources, which has an impact on their health and wellbeing. Poor health is more likely when they do not have the resources to live healthy and free of disease.

Furthermore, it is also common for children with additional needs to require more resources. However, disabled children living in poverty often do not receive these. Without additional support, a disabled child is less able to carry out normal and essential tasks. This prevents them from living a healthy and more normal life (1).


Inadequate healthcare, poor sanitation and malnutrition are experienced by many people in poverty, particularly street children (5). These factors often lead to severe disease and can result in permanent disability (4). For example, malnourishment can have a serious impact on a child’s health as it limits physical development (3). Poor nutrition during pregnancy can have detrimental effects on a developing baby and increases the risk of disease later in life (6).


Homelessness is another feature of poverty which can contribute to poor health and disability. Children living on the streets have limited contact with carers and family, where little support from care-providers can lead to poor mental and physical health. Therefore, children living or working on the street are commonly described as ‘children at risk’ (7). UNICEF also describes street children in a similar way by labelling them as ‘children in need of special protection’ (7). Since street children as a whole are particularly vulnerable, many children’s charities are working to better support and protect them.


Many people are also stigmatised when living in poverty and are seen as out-casts. This is disproportionately the case for street children. Therefore, street children living in poverty and with disability are often even more isolated.


There is a strong two-way relationship between poverty and disability. On the one hand, disability increases the risk of a person having to live in poverty. There are many reasons for this and it is often very complex. Children with disability often receive poorer education (10). This is often due to a lack of understanding and judgement from others, and impacts a child’s ability to find work later in life. Without work, poverty and a life on the street is far more likely for these children. Combined with the social exclusion experienced by many disabled children, it is clear that disability can contribute to poverty.

In addition, poverty also increases the risk of disability. Without sufficient money it can be very hard to access vital resources, such as healthcare and nutritional food. This negatively impacts a child’s physical health where disease, malnutrition and a lack of medicine can lead to the development of disability. Therefore, rates of disability are far higher amongst adults and children living in poverty (3).

Poverty and disability in street children

Overall, both poverty and disability are very common in street children (8). Living on the street and with disability has twice the negative impact on a child’s life. More help is urgently required to improve these children’s lives (9). Help us support vulnerable children.


  1. Palmer M. Disability and Poverty: A Conceptual Review. Journal of Disability Policy Studies [Internet]. 2011 [cited 13 June 2021];21(4):210-218. Available from:
  2. Ingstad B, Eide A. Disability and Poverty: A Global Challenge. Chicago: Policy Press; 2011.
  3. Street Child. On International Day of Persons with Disabilities we Advocate for Inclusive Education — Street Child [Internet]. Street Child. 2019 [cited 13 June 2021]. Available from:
  4. Mitra S, Posarac A, Vick B. Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study. World Development [Internet]. 2013 [cited 13 June 2021];41:1-18. Available from:
  5. Banks L, Kuper H, Polack S. Poverty and disability in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2017 [cited 13 June 2021];12(12):e0189996. Available from:
  6. Roseboom T. Handbook of Famine, Starvation, and Nutrient Deprivation. The Netherlands: Amsterdam Public Health Research Institute; 2017.
  7. Panter‐brick C. Homelessness, poverty, and risks to health: beyond at risk categorizations of street children1. Children’s Geographies [Internet]. 2004 [cited 13 June 2021];2(1). Available from:
  8. Vameghi M, Sajjadi S, Rafiey H, Rashidian A. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF STUDIES ON STREET CHILDREN IN IRAN IN RECENT DECADE: POVERTY, A RISK FACTOR FOR BECOMING A STREET CHILD. Social Welfare [Internet]. 2010 [cited 13 June 2021];:337 To 378. Available from:
  9. Mitra S, Posarac A, Vick B. Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study. World Development [Internet]. 2013 [cited 13 June 2021];41:1-18. Available from:
  10. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:

Disability in Street Children: Causes and Impacts

Young boy in poverty in developing region.


A large number of children living with disabilities are living in developing regions (1). This is very important here at Poverty Child as many of these children are living on the street. This is a large public health concern, as disability in street children can greatly impact children’s physical and mental health.

Street children and poverty

Work at Poverty Child aims to improve the lives and outcomes of children living and working on the street. The term ‘Street Children’ is used to describe either children who live and work on the streets, or those who spend a a lot of time on the street but sleep away from public spaces (2).

Poverty is a main cause of children having to live on the street. Other causes include the death of family members, neglect or violence. Poverty is also a main cause of disability, where the cost of healthcare prevents many people from being able to access vital services (3). Disability can increase the probability of being in poverty, as it prevents many from being able to work. In addition, many children receive poorer education as a result of disability. To clarify, disability and poverty are closely linked, as both impact on the lives of street children. Disability in street children adds an additional hardship. For example, street children living with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence and typically have poorer health (2).

Furthermore, disabled street children are often ignored and they try to remain hidden as a result of the high levels of discrimination they experience (2). Work in Sierra Leone by Street Child has shown that discrimination is one of the biggest factors contributing to poor education for children living with disabilities (4).

In addition, the current Coronavirus pandemic has also had a large impact on street children living with disabilities (5). This has made it harder for them to access food or help. Currently, there is a need to remotely support children with disabilities due to Coronavirus.

Causes of disability in street children

There are a large number of factors which can cause disability in children (1). However, many of these have been tackled in higher income countries. Yet, many preventable diseases are continuing to cause disability in children of low-income settings (1). For example, disability may be caused by infectious diseases, infections by parasites and  diseases not directly spread from person to person (1). In addition, in poor regions and street children especially, factors such as malnutrition, maternal and perinatal disease and social unrest are also common causes (3).

Types of disability

A person with a disability has a long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment (6). Research from Street Child suggests that more street children have intellectual disabilities than physical ones. For example, this may include learning and social impairments. Subsequently, this can affect their education (7).

Figure describing both the social and medical models of disability. The diagram reads that the social model includes the impact of discrimination which can lead to poorer job prospects. In contrast, the medical model more closely describes the lack of physical ability and that the disability is the problem, not that of society.

The Medical and Social Models of Disability (6)

Models of disability

The social model of disability highlights the discrimination a person may face due to their disability (6). This stigma has existed for a long time, and remains an issue around the world. To add further, there is often a view that disability is the ‘fault’ of the person. Instead, society needs to be fully inclusive of people living with disability (8). In comparison, the medical model of disability more directly focuses on changes to the physical or mental abilities of a person (6).

Discrimination in disabled children

Children living with disability experience stigma and discrimination, on top of the difficulties caused by the disability itself (9). Discrimination is described by UNICEF as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability’ (6). This causes many children to feel isolated and helpless (9).

Discrimination in education

Disability often prevents children from fully taking part in their community. As a result, this causes many to feel like outsiders within their own communities (8). For example, it is common for children with disabilities to be separated in classrooms. Some teachers will refuse to teach children with disabilities alongside other children (8). This continues to make those with disabilities believe there is something wrong with them. Furthermore, it also suggests to able-bodied children that the two groups need to be separated. This results in poorer education for disabled children. Many children begin to feel this stigma towards themselves, which results in them not wanting to seek help or access to health services. This further adds to the struggle of living with disability as a child. Furthermore, they have been left behind in the global attempt to improve education for street children as a whole (10).

Gender-based discrimination

Gender-based discrimination is also experienced by girls living with disabilities. Consequently, they overall receive less education and less career training than boys with disabilities and able-bodied girls of the same age (11). This exclusion is commonly as a result of them being invisible. Therefore, it is important that we work to include disabled girls within and out-with disabled communities (11).

Developments to disability in street children

Many organisations are working to improve the health and lives of children living in low income countries (1). In particular, programmes are working to improve the outcomes of disability in street children. For example, community-based programmes are being used to emphasise the importance of good health care for disabled children. The introduction of such programmes has helped improve childhood access to healthcare in Tanzania. This is a country currently struggling with high rates or childhood disability (1).

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 hope to make education more inclusive and more accessible to all children (10). However, there is a lack of research on the education of disabled children, particularly in those living on the streets (9). This is due to a lack of funding. As a result, this limits the improvements which can be made to the education of disabled street children. One way to solve this is through fundraising campaigns. These campaigns are increasing awareness and therefore support for projects. Subsequently, this increase in funding is helping to meet the needs of every child living with disability.

In addition, there is a mindset that we need to ‘fix’ children living with disabilities. This implies that something is wrong with them. Instead, it is better if we work to remove the stigma the children face. This would result in children being free to succeed no matter their impairment (8). For instance, UNICEF’s ‘Its about ability’ campaign is aimed at changing community perception of disability, which is helping to improve the acceptance and inclusion of disabled children (8).


Sadly, the global pandemic had a negative impact on much of the progress being made. However, organisations such as Chance For Childhood have done great work to meet the needs of disabled street children through outreach teams during this difficult time. The result: much improved support of street children in Kenya and Ghana (5).

Overall, these programmes can collectively help us to improve disability in street children.



  1. Cameron D, Nixon S, Parnes P, Pidsadny M. Children with disabilities in low-income countries. Paediatrics & Child Health [Internet]. 2005 [cited 25 April 2021];10(5):269-272. Available from:
  2. org. The Facts about Street Children | Consortium for Street Children [Internet]. Consortium for Street Children. 2019 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:
  3. Simkiss D, Blackburn C, Mukoro F, Read J, Spencer N. Childhood disability and socio-economic circumstances in low and middle income countries: systematic review. BMC Pediatrics [Internet]. 2011 [cited 25 April 2021];11(1). Available from:
  4. Weimert F. Discrimination is the biggest obstacle to education for children with disabilities — Street Child Switzerland [Internet]. Street Child Switzerland. 2018 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:
  5. Chance For Childhood. How we’re supporting vulnerable children during Coronavirus | Chance for Childhood – Children’s charity [Internet]. Chance for Childhood. 2020 [cited 5 May 2021]. Available from:
  6. Desk Review for Developing Measures on Discriminatory Attitudes and Social Norms towards Children with Disabilities in Europe and Central Asia region [Internet]. Dornsfife: UNICEF; 2018. Available from:
  7. Kamara J. A Study on the Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Sierra Leone [Internet]. Chicago: Street Child; 2018. Available from:
  8. Children with disabilities [Internet]. 2021 [cited 25 April 2021]. Available from:
  9. Maulik P, Darmstadt G. Childhood Disability in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Overview of Screening, Prevention, Services, Legislation, and Epidemiology. PEDIATRICS [Internet]. 2007 [cited 25 April 2021];120(Supplement):S1-S55. Available from:
  10. The World Bank. Education: Children with disabilities are being left behind, says World Bank/GPE report [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  11. The State of the World’s Children 2013 [Internet]. 2013 [cited 25 April 2021]. Available from: