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SPECIAL: Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road

6/20/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

(Page 16 of 18)

addresses its pastoral care to the boys and girls who live on the street.

I. The phenomenon, its causes and possible initiatives

The phenomenon

118. Street children are one of the most difficult and worrying challenges of our century for both the Church and civil society. It is a problem of unexpected magnitude, regarding around 100 million children, and is on the increase almost everywhere. It constitutes a real social emergency, as well as a pastoral one.

119. specific pastoral care is even more lacking.

120. Strictly speaking, street children are those with no ties to their families, which means that they have made the street their place of abode, and are often forced to sleep there, in a wide range of situations. Some of them have undergone the traumatising experience of a family break-up and have been left on their own, whilst others have run away from home after being neglected or mistreated.

Some have rejected their family home, or been thrown out of it because they are involved in some form of deviant behaviour (drugs, alcohol, stealing and various makeshift activities to survive), and others have been persuaded with promises, seduction or violence, by adults or criminal gangs, to live on the streets.

This often happens to foreign youngsters forced to prostitute themselves, or to foreign unaccompanied minors forced into begging, or even prostitution. These children are often known to the police and have frequently spent time in prison.

121. Different from "street children" are those who spend a great deal of time in the streets, even though they are not deprived of a "home" and ties with their family. They prefer to take each day as it comes, with little or no sense of responsibility regarding education and the future, frequenting disreputable groups, usually away from their families, even though they can still find a bed to sleep at home. Nevertheless, their numbers are worrying, also in developed countries.

The causes of the problem

122. There are many causes at the root of this social problem that is taking on increasingly alarming dimensions. The primary causes include: increasing family breakdown; tensions between parents; aggressive, violent and sometimes perverse behaviour towards children; emigration, which entails uprooting from everyday life and consequent disorientation; conditions of poverty and hardship that destroy dignity and deprive people of the wherewithal to survive; the spread of drug addiction and alcoholism; and prostitution and the sex industry, which continue to take an extraordinary toll of victims, often driven by terrible violence to the most brutal kind of slavery.

Other factors are wars and social disorder that upset normal life, including for minors, and the spread, primarily in Europe, of a "culture characterised by pleasure and transgression" -- which should not be underestimated -- in environments marked by a lack of reference values, in which young people in general suffer from loneliness and an ever deeper sense of the emptiness of existence.

Initiatives and their objectives

123. The more alarming the extent of the problem gets and the more lacking the effective presence of public authorities is, the more appreciated and valuable are intervention by the private social and voluntary sectors. Associations in the Church and those based on Christian inspiration, with the new movements and communities, are active and efficient, but unfortunately they are inadequate before such a wide rande of needs and, usually, disconnected from a comprehensive pastoral plan.

Dioceses and national Bishops' Conferences, or the corresponding structures of Oriental Catholic Churches, should deal with this problem in pastoral way, taking into account both prevention and rehabilitation of the children.

124. There is substantial agreement on objectives among the variety of concrete initiatives regarding this issue. Such objectives include returning street children to a normal way of life, which entails their reintegration within society, but above all within a family environment, if possible in their original families, or otherwise in community facilities, but always of a family type.

A priority commitment is to help children regain their self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of dignity and consequent personal responsibility. This will give rise to a genuine desire to resume schooling and take up vocational training with a view to obtaining employment, so that they may develop -- with their own strengths and not just by depending on others -- respectable and rewarding life projects.

125. Many different kinds of intervention are possible, such as so-called direct involvement in the street, which provides for contact with the children in the places where they gather, in order to establish a relationship ...

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