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CICAD leads street youth to a brighter future.

The streets of the Hemisphere are home to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of children, some as young as five and six years old. In Latin America and the Caribbean, they typically earn a living by washing car windshields, shining shoes, "protecting" parked cars, selling matches, begging or petty thievery. Growing numbers of sexually exploited youth of both sexes work as prostitutes, with all the attendant dangers of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, and backroom abortions. Very young girls run the risk of bearing drug-addicted babies or children with birth defects. Thrown into a hostile environment many, if not most, of these children use drugs and sniff glue, in an effort to escape their daily reality of poverty, hunger and despair.

In 1981, eighty percent of street youth in Sao Paulo had used inhalants, according to Dr. Carlini, a noted researcher in Brazil. Street kids also work for adult drug dealers as lookouts or small distributors, and may receive part of their payment in the form of marijuana, coca paste or inhalants. Some street children return to their homes at night, their earnings contributing to the family economy. Too many, however, have been forced from their homes by parental abuse or drunkenness, and sleep in parks, sewers or doorways. Street children have little access to education or health care; they live on the outer margins of society in countries burdened by debt, heavy unemployment and disease.

The problem of street children must be confronted not only to help the children already trapped but to prevent others from entering the cycle of poverty and drug abuse. Many institutions around the globe are trying to care for street children in Latin America, but they generally operate on a shoe-string budget and rely on volunteers who rarely have the time to expand their efforts beyond today's needs and look at the longer term solutions.

The Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States, has initiated programs to combat the problem of youth drug addiction from its roots. CICAD's first goal is to promote inter-American cooperation to attack the complex transnational chain of drug production and use. CICAD also conducts workshops and training programs on a grassroots level, from establishing new drug regulations to researching inhalant abuse among street children.

CICAD research has shown that children who are taught basic vocational skills and the behavioral habits needed for them to operate in the "conventional" world can become excellent entrepreneurs. Street children who form and manage micro-businesses of a licit kind seem to stop taking drugs. Occupational training, income-generating projects and non-formal education appear to be the keys to success.

A locally-based program backed by CICAD supports institutions working with street children in the Andean Region through small seed-fund grants, training and technical assistance. Through one of these programs, Fundacion Ninos de los Andes, hundreds of street children have been rescued literally from the sewers, given care and education, and placed in regular jobs in the country's petroleum and farming industries, carpentry and other services. "I have never seen so much suffering in my life," explains Ann Luskin, once a volunteer for the Fundacion, now a full-time staff member. Luskin helps children become selfsufficient, rehabilitate their drug habits and learn skills which will reintegrate them into the workplace. Overall, the program has had a 75 percent success rate.

Another organization, Enda-Bolivia in El Alto has helped over 150 street children set up three self-supporting businesses: a paper recycling operation, a small factory which manufactures sidewalk paving stones, and a workshop that makes and sells wooden jigsaw puzzles and postcards.

An important aspect of the CICAD program is to network the strategies and results of various programs to other institutions. Luskin remembers one such success. Andres was found in the sewers at age 11. Six years later, he has completed a high school education, obtained a steady job and earned a tennis scholarship which will take him to the United States for a year. Belief in the potential of children like Andres is the first step in remedying our shared hemispheric problem of youth living in the streets.

Anna Chisman is the Demand Reduction Specialist for CICAD.
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Title Annotation:Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission
Author:Chisman, Anna
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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