Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Street Children and Lumpen Youth: Childhood and Youth Livelihood at the Margins


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For the 2006 session of the Institute, the theme that has been selected is childhood and youth livelihood on the margins with particular emphasis on street children and the lumpen youth. This is a theme that has been recurrent in the study of processes of social change in Africa; in recent times, it has been kept in view by the contexts of conflict, disease, prolonged economic decline, and demographic change that have been important features of politics, economy and society across the continent. Thus, although much work has been done in the past on the street child and more recently on the lumpen youth, the connections of child and youth marginalisation to political instability, violent conflicts, state retrenchment, policies of marketisation, and diseases such as the HIV/AIDs pandemic have remained generally under-explored both empirically and conceptually. Even more under-explored are the various new and/or reconfigured contextual factors that define the framework for the marginalisation of the younger members of society. These factors are political, economic, social and demographic in nature and they speak to broader processes of transition and change in society that have impacted adversely on children and the youth. Thus, while the dominant, traditional explanations of child and youth disadvantage and disaffection such as the changing structure of the family, the decline of “tradition”, the poor appeal of formal education, and shifts in social values may still be generally relevant, new factors connected with accelerated processes of urbanisation that have generally gone hand-in-hand with the expansion of the boundaries of the informal sector, deepening of social inequalities in the context of the collapse of social policy, increased migratory flows within and across national borders, and the massive and accelerated refraction of global processes and trends into local contexts, among others, have emerged into significance to merit closer attention.

In part because of the new contextual factors, the worlds of the street child and the lumpen youth have witnessed important changes, including the evolution of unique linguistic forms, which also deserve to be studied in their own right. These worlds are mostly informal, even though they also bear distinct relations of power and are governed by clear rules, including rules of entry. The street children and lumpen youth are mostly concentrated in urban centres. Anecdotal evidence from different parts of Africa suggests that the female population among them has also grown significantly even though their world is still be ruled predominantly masculinist chauvinisms manifesting themselves in different ways from language to dressing.

Furthermore, the street children and lumpen youth maintain complex relations with the formal processes and structures of politics and the economy, relations which also highlight the agency which they are able to exercise in projecting their interests and contributing to the shaping of the broader macro-political, economic and social context within which they operate.

Through the theme of the 2006 session, participants in the Institute are being invited to re-read child and youth marginalisation in contemporary Africa by undertaking a critical assessment of the sources, nature, dimensions and significance of street children and lumpen youth in local, national and even regional and global political, social, economic processes. Participants will be encouraged to review and re-think the relevant literature on the subject; analyse the empirical evidence and insights which is available both from their own field work and other sources; construct conceptual, theoretical, and methodological tools that could help to deepen knowledge on new dimensions of child and youth marginality, as well as advance debate; and consider the challenges for further research which arise from their scholarly interventions. For this purpose, the resources of the CODESRIA documentation centre (CODICE) and the expertise of a team of experienced resource persons will be made available to the participants in the Institute.

December 28 2009