Methods. In collaboration with an agency partner working with street children in Dhaka city, we interviewed children age 5 to17 who work and/or live on the street. Key measures were physical and emotional abuse, demographics, current job, time on the street, sleeping arrangements, food-based family SES, reason for leaving home, social support, and parental status. We used exploratory OLS regression of criteria on all independent variables to explore key predictors of physical and emotional abuse.
Results. Participants were mostly male (66%), 13.4 years old, had at least one year of school (70%) but could neither read nor write (71%), came from a food-poor family (75%), slept on the street (74%) and had done so for 4.5 years. They earned the equivalent of $3.59 a day for their work as a laborer (38%), vendor (32%), sex worker (14%), beggar (9%) or other. All 592 children report a history of both physical and emotional abuse since arriving on the streets. Consistent with social exclusion theory, physical violence increased directly with time living on the street and inversely with every level of family SES. Working as a vendor (rather than a laborer) and knowing how to write were protective factors. Not surprisingly, emotional abuse followed a similar pattern, except current school attendance was a significant predictor of abuse, while employment as a sex worker served as a protective factor.
Conclusion. It is not an over-statement to hypothesize that virtually all Bangladeshi street children are physically and emotionally abused. SE theory suggests that assault, exclusion, and deprivation are logical consequences of family poverty and abuse, longer street exposure, and economic exploitation. In the case of being a sex worker—a job that hardly seems to be a protective factor—reduced abuse is likely due to the patron nature of adult sexual relationships with boys and girls sought by adult men in Bangladesh, where the role of protector is part of the arrangement. The current study supports the multidimensionality of social exclusion, locating exclusion across multiple settings, including emotions, family, education, employment and income. Future research should consider extending our understanding of Bangladeshi street children to include potential sequelae of abuse, including the use of abuse and exploitation against peers, or in time their own children. While such behavior has been documented in western industrial states, the long term biopsychosocial effects of street exposure remains an open question in Bangladesh, and elsewhere.