Life At Urban Margins: Social Networks and Socio-Economic Survival of Bangladeshi Street Children
The conventional wisdom that guides public and policymakers’ perception of street children in Bangladesh coincides with the global trend that tends to revolve around vulnerability, stereotypical beliefs and criminalization of street children. There is little research to date that explores the strength, resiliency, and resources associated with street children. In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, the research in this project investigated the following: a) how children living in the economic margins of urban society develop, maintain and use social networks; b) the kinds of social resources that are embedded in children’s networks; and c) the extent to which social networks facilitate or constrain the acquisition of resources that help these children meet everyday needs, and whether they offer the hope for future benefit.
The present study is informed by network approaches. Network approaches are concerned with the functions of interpersonal relationships, the dynamic processes that structure these relationships, the exchanges that take place across such relationships, and the implications of network relationships for expressive and instrumental outcomes (Lin, 2001). Social support is intricately related to social networks and is conceived as the processes of transaction of material and non-material resources among individuals embedded in social networks (House, 1981). These resources are categorized under four established domains- emotional, informational, instrumental and financial that are essential for managing coping function (House, 1981).
The study used a qualitative approach. Usually, a qualitative approach is preferred for a study that delves into a complex but little-known phenomenon such as street children’s social networks (Rubin and Babbie, 1997). The study used a purposive sampling and included 75 interviews with children in three locations in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The field work phase of the research was extended for over a year where the researcher and children had extensive interaction before administering formal interview. Hierarchical mapping technique (HMT) (Antonucci, 1986), was used alongside an open-ended interview protocol. Data was coded and analyzed using a qualitative software Nvivo-9.
The findings suggest that children form and maintain strong social networks and use them extensively in their everyday life. It was found that despite the often horrific circumstances of everyday existence on the street, social networks make life bearable and even sometimes enjoyable for children. These networks serve as important sources of information (about economic opportunities, about health and safety issues, etc), provide a great deal of material assistance in the form of food, small amounts of money, and other essentials, and network members represent key friendships allowing children to satisfy needs for companionship, play, and emotional support in an otherwise hostile environment. My analysis also examines factors that either encourage or complicate the functioning of social relationships for the children and the role that adults (e.g., family members, employers, public officials and service providers) play in their lives.
Implications: The findings question the conventional wisdom about street children’s life experiences that is the core of current policy intervention. It has implications for developing new intervention for extremely marginalized children in the developing regions.