IN JUNE and July, hundreds of professional footballers from 32
nations will descend on Brazil to contest the FIFA World Cup. For a
similarly international group of teenagers, however, this is an
adjunct to the main event.
Instead, they are focused on a different festival of football to
be held in Brazil next month - the Street Child World Cup (SCWC).
Children who live on the streets of 19 countries, from Nicaragua to
Zimbabwe, will visit Rio de Janeiro to play for their own trophy,
and to make their voices heard.
A spokeswoman for the SCWC, Jo Clark, explained that the
competition was about raising the profile of the estimated 100
million children who live on the streets. "No one knows exactly how
many there are, because they are ignored; they don't have an
identity," she said.
"The World Cup in Brazil is a fantastic opportunity - everybody
is talking about it. We can share the stories of these children,
and show their commitment and talent."
But the FIFA World Cup is not just a PR opportunity, and is
rarely a benign influence on the lives of young people who share a
precarious existence in the favelas and slums of
Urban regeneration that seeks to transform the face of the host
cities in Brazil has sometimes led to increasing marginalisation of
the most vulnerable in Brazilian society - children living on the
It was the effect of international football on street children's
lives which led to the first SCWC in 2010. "It came about because a
group of families were visiting a project which worked with street
children in Durban, South Africa, shortly before the last World Cup
there," Miss Clark said.
"The local government were trying to prepare the city for the
world's attention, but this meant cleansing the streets of street
children, because they were looked on as rubbish. The police had
this policy where they would round up street children, throw them
into the back of vans, drive them out of the city, and dump
Appalled by this treatment, the founders of SCWC, Chris Rose and
John Wroe, decided to hold a "world cup" just for street children,
to force the authorities to stop pretending that there was no
Seven-a-side teams from eight countries, including England, took
part in the tournament. But, alongside the football, SCWC also put
on a series of workshops, where the children discussed the
challenges of living on the street.
"The workshops explore the issues that each of the children
faces while being on the street," Miss Clark said. "They look at
the abuse they suffer, what opportunities they have, how they are
viewed as individuals."
The outcome was the Durban Declaration, a statement agreed by
all the children, which spells out what governments around the
world need to do to support them. "It's the only conference in the
world where the children are leading on policies that could help
them," Miss Clark said. And it was not just talk.
As a result of pressure from the SCWC, and media coverage, the
authorities in Durban agreed to stop rounding up street children
and instead begin to engage with local street-children
The organisers of this year's SCWC hope for the same in Brazil.
They are collaborating with 300 street-children organisations
across the country in the campaign "Not of the Streets", which
calls on the Brazilian government to provide "street educators",
and proper accommodation for street children, and to invest in
preventing family breakdown.
A particular focus for this year's tournament is gender. Women's
teams are participating for the first time.
Miss Clark said: "Many girls on the streets are involved in sex
tourism and trafficking, and often abused by boys living on the
streets with them. We are going to be helping boys to understand
not to look down on the girls, but to help support them."
Each team of street children is put together by a local charity
in that country, in partnership with SCWC, and, once the football
is over, SCWC will continue to work with the partners to help the
children leave the streets permanently.
The 2016 Olympic Games are being held in Rio de Janeiro; so
there is an especially good reason to continue their work in
Brazil, Miss Clark said.
But it is not just about worthy charity work, it is about
football as well. "A lot of the countries taking part here will
probably never make it to the proper World Cup," Miss Clark
"So, for them, these children are actually flying the flag for
the country, despite often being seen as nobodies. That's very
The tournament will include a trip to the iconic stadium in Rio,
the Maracanã, andthe final will be played at the home of the
Brazilian club Fluminense.
For many of the teenagers who take part inthe tournament,
football is a way to escape their destiny as "rubbish", fit only to
be "cleansed" from the streets. Andile, a South African who took
part in the 2010 tournament, said: "When people see us by the side
of the street, they say that we are the street boys.
"But when they see us play football, they will say that we are
not the street boys. They will say that we are people like them.
They are people like us."
To raise the profile of the SCWC, 1600 children broke the
Guinness World Record for the largest samba band, at the Royal
Albert Hall in London, on Monday of last week.
THE reality of life for street children was made clear
last month, when one of the boys from Team Brazil was shot and
In a statement, SCWC said that Rodrigo Kelton
(above) was killed as he walked home on 13 February. It
was his 14th birthday.
Bernardo Rosemeyer, the founder of SCWC's Brazilian
partner organisation O Pequeno Nazareno (Little Nazarene), said:
"The invitation for us to participate in the Street Child World Cup
made a big difference in the life of Rodrigo.
"He accepted the challenge, quit drugs, and he did not
miss any training. Rodrigo's involvement, and the prospect of the
trip to Rio, had been a light in a life touched by too much
The charity said that Rodrigo and his brother Raphael
were attacked by drug traffickers in revenge for an alleged robbery
many years earlier. He was the second boy involved with O Pequeno
Nazareno to be killed this year.
Other members of Team Brazil carried the coffin at his