Introduction Sri Lankan street children live in insecure and disadvantaged environments and have disrupted and poorly functioning families resulting in their poor socialisation. In this backdrop they are at high risk of adopting delinquent and antisocial behaviour and becoming victims of abuse. Despite recognition of this as a social problem, an in-depth exploration of their behaviour and its correlates has not been attempted.
Objectives To describe risk behaviour among street children in Colombo city and the determinants of such behaviour. Methods A cross sectional qualitative study in Colombo Fort, Pettah, Slave Island, and Maradana areas was conducted using focus group discussions (FGDs) with street children and semi-structured interviews (SSIs) with street children and key informants in their environment. Data generated were used to profile 283 children identified through referral sampling. An observation study was conducted to validate data generated through FGDs and SSIs. Semi-structured questionnaires, a moderator guide, an interviewer-administered questionnaire, and an observational checklist were used for SSIs, FGDs, profiling, and observational study, respectively.
Results Majority of street children were boys and were aged 14 years or less. Nearly 18% lived alone without a guardian. Two thirds had never enrolled in a school. Many children were used for begging, neglecting their health vulnerabilities. Occupational risk behaviour included heavy manual labour, transportation and sale of illicit alcohol and narcotics, robbing/pick-pocketing, commercial sex work, and pimping. Recreational risk behaviour included abuse of alcohol/narcotics, smoking, sexual promiscuity, and patronising commercial sex workers.
Conclusions Increased awareness and strategies are required to minimise threats to street children and society.