Currently thousands of children and adolescents live in the streets of Managua, and this phenomenon is moving rapidly into the smaller cities of Nicaragua. In other countries around the world, civil war is a leading cause of street children, but in Nicaragua, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, often committed by the father or stepfather, combined with poverty is usually why children and adolescents turn to the street. Street kids range in age from about 5 or 6 years old to 18 years old, and many kids living in the streets have children of their own. The majority of street kids have families, but often claim their parents are dead to avoid thinking or talking about the abuse they have suffered. Time spent in the streets ranges from several days, to several months, to several years, and the longer children reside in the streets, the more difficult their rehabilitation process becomes. When stealing, distrust, and deceit become a mode of survival, it is difficult to unlearn this behavior.
There are two general categories of street children: Niños de la calle (children of the street) and niños en la calle, (children in the street.) Niños de la calle live and sleep in the streets and have broken ties to their family unit, while niños en la calle generally sleep at home but spend all of their waking hours in the street either because of vagrancy or because they are selling goods and services and have not broken ties with their family unit. According to a study conducted by TESIS, a Nicaraguan non-governmental organization, the majority of children and adolescents who work in the streets are connected to a family unit and attend school. Children selling products in the streets are generally working to help their parents afford food and clothing. They often have aspirations for the futures and receive the least hostility from society.
It is not uncommon for female child workers to alternate between venders of various products and prostitution. Some boys who work in the streets turn to female prostitutes for sex, while some boys prostitute their own bodies. Children workers, especially females, who are out late at night in various transportation terminals selling goods and services are at serious risk for abuse.
Niños de la calle, children and adolescents who have broken all ties with their family, generally live in groups with other street kids. They sleep in abandoned buildings, beneath bridges, in the entrances of buildings, public parks, and rough houses. They frequently commit minor robberies or resort to prostitution to survive. The majority of street children and adolescents who have broken all ties to their families are addicted to inhalants, most commonly shoe glue.
There are about a dozen centers for street children in Managua, and others in different parts of the country, each with their own age requirements and methodology niches. The majority of street kids have found their way into one or more of the centers at one time or another and many bounce in-between centers. These kids are often referred to as proyecteros, because they move from one proyecto, or center, to another when it is convenient. All of the centers for street children in Nicaragua communicate with one another through an organized network, so that when the centers find a street kid who does not meet their particular age requirements or not suited for their particular methodology, they will take him or her to another organization that is more appropriate.
Slater, Jane, "Leaving the Streets" (2004). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 519.