life on the streets - a lost childhood
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has suffered immense poverty, primarily through huge loss of employment. One of the tragic consequences of this poverty is children as young as five running away to the city streets because 'home' is a place of abuse, alcoholism and neglect. Other children leave home and head for the cities with the hope of finding work on the streets or in the markets to support their families who are struggling to make ends meet.
Once on the streets, these vulnerable children have to survive without anyone to care for them, in temperatures as low as -25c and as high as 45c. Some don't survive at all. The only way to get food is through stealing, begging or eating from rubbish bins. Many resort to sniffing glue to suppress their hunger. Unbathed, uneducated and often in poor health, these children also suffer exploitation and abuse from other children, traffickers, pimps and the mafia. Society rejects them, viewing them as inconvenient and disposable nuisances, rather than the abandoned children that they are.
In recent years, the Kyrgyz government has decided to crack down on the issue of street children by doing regular ‘round-ups’ and taking the children to government institutions. Although it is a roof over their heads, the facilities and provisions are very basic and they receive little constructive input, warmth or love. When they are released at the age of 16 they are expected to fend for themselves. At this young age, and due to lack of family support, education, accommodation, or any positive prospects, once they leave these institutions they have no option but to return to the streets. Their likely future is one of crime, prison, prostitution or slavery.