LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - You see them everywhere in Angola's capital city of Luanda: thousands of sharp-eyed street children that hawk everything from pens to television sets in a desperate struggle to earn a living.
Authorities view them as a pain but Fernando Macedo, who runs the Association for Justice Peace and Democracy in Luanda, says they are anything but.
Without these street entrepreneurs, he says, the crime rate would shoot through the roof. That is because many Angolans who lack the skills to work for a major oil firm in Luanda are forced to make a living on the street.
"In the black market they can save enough money to support their families. The street children are the lifeblood of the informal economy," said Macedo. "If they can't make money in the market they will turn to crime."
Angola emerged from a civil war in 2002 as one of Africa's top oil producers, but an estimated two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and unemployment hovers at around 40 percent.
Many of the street hawkers buy their products in open-air markets on the outskirts of Luanda, where their customers are too scared to venture. Then they sell them for at least twice the amount in the city center.
"We're just trying to survive," said Silva Jose, who came from the once-prosperous farming province of Benguela during the war and now sells car parts on the streets of Alvalade -- one of Luanda's finest neighborhoods.
"Without education or family connections how else could I make money in Luanda?"
But earlier this year, authorities began cracking down on street vendors in an attempt to transfer their business into regulated markets in Luanda such as the Roque Santeiro -- one of Africa's biggest open air markets.
The black marketeers have remained defiant even after having their goods confiscated by the police several times.
"We don't want to lose customers who are scared or too lazy to venture outside the city center," said Debong Faria as a BMW sports utility vehicle cruised behind him.
"We are here on the street because that's where the money is," said the 15-year-old, who sells soft-drinks and Sony car radios.
A spokesman for Luanda's governor said the fight was far from over as thousands of street children continue to roam the streets for business every day.
"It's illegal to sell products on the street and that is why police are trying to end this practice," Ladislau Silva, said. "But there are so many of them right now that it will be hard to put an end to this phenomenon."
Reporting by Henrique Almeida, editing by Paul Casciato