They are the children of the concrete, living off their wits in the world's largest cities. Their numbers are vast and their hopes for a better life are dim. They are the 100 million or so children under the age of 16 who scrounge for a livelihood on the streets.
These children, in Latin America, live from crisis to crisis surviving by stealing or begging or breathing fire. They sell anything. Newspapers, chewing gun, a shoeshine, even themselves. Their beds are often cold sidewalks or alleyways.
Many are orphans of war, civil strife and man-made disasters. Some have been turned out by their parents, others work to help support their families. In Brazil, death squads hired by local merchants hunt and kill them because they steal to survive.
There has been little in the way of legal protection of these children but now there is a ray of hope from the United Nations where the Convention on the Rights of the Child goes into effect this week. So far, the Convention, which covers such areas as safeguarding children's survival, providing for their education, protecting them against child labor, drug abuse and sexual exploitation, has been signed by 105 nations.
Implementation of the Convention will be one of the objectives of the World Summit for Children being held in New York at the United Nations on Sept. 29-30.