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Street Child teams play for their own World Cup

14 March 2014


Heading for fame: members of the Philippines' girls' football team practise for the Street Child World Cup

Heading for fame: members of the Philippines' girls' football team practise for the Street Child World Cup

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 Brazil.

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 street.

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 them."

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 problem.

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 charities.

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 said.

"So, for them, these children are actually flying the flag for the country, despite often being seen as nobodies. That's very empowering."

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 killed.

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 suffering."

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 funeral.

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