With just days to go until kick-off at the Street Child World Cup in association with Save the Children, Team India receives a send-off worthy of champions.
Team India, made up of nine street-connected boys, aged 14 – 16, from Karunalaya Social Service Society kicked off their Road to Rio in their hometown of Chennai.
A room packed full of supporters, journalists and dignitaries, including chief guest Hon’ble Mr. Justice S Manikumar, Judge of the High Court of Madaras and Mr. Vikash Singh, CEO of Bharti Airtel – Team India sponsors – attended the event wishing the boys well.
Airtel sponsors the Rising Stars soccer challenge in India where children from 450 schools compete to find the 12 most talented players. Airtel is delighted to be involved with another initiative aimed at helping the young people of India to shine.Team India Project Leader Paul Sunder Singh, Airtel CEO Mr. Vikash Singh and Hon’ble Mr. Justice. S. Manikumar at Team India launch event in Chennai.
In Chennai it is thought there are 75,000 street children alone. Karunalaya works in Chennai to provide care, protection and rehabilitation for runaway street children. The shelter provides care, food, clothing, education and sports with the goal to reintegrate children with their families. More than 3000 street children have been looked after by Karunalaya.
Kanadoss, Team India Captain said, “I came to Chennai where Karunalaya staff rescued me from the railway station and brought me to shelter. I cannot imagine what would have been my life on the streets if Karaunlaya had not rescued me.”
Just days later the team were cheered on by a crowd of 600 street-connected children and dignitaries at an event in Delhi, and received good-luck gifts from the Governor of Delhi and the Delhi Commissioner of Police as they prepare for the Street Child World Cup kicking off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 28.
Being treated as heroes by politicians and policemen is a world away from growing up on the streets in Chennai, and they’re determined to take the opportunity and make their voice heard. Habib, 14 said: “My only dream is to play football and represent the country. I wake up at 4am and train. If we do well in Brazil, we get bigger recognition.”
India has the largest population of street children in the world – over 11 million. UNICEF estimate that only 40% of Indian babies are registered at birth, meaning every year millions of children are born into a legal abyss – on paper they simply don’t exist – nobodies.
Kanadoss commented the Street Child World Cup has given him a chance he didn’t believe possible, “I never dreamt I would be flying in a plane and playing football in Brazil.”
The event in Delhi on March 5 marked the establishment of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in India. The NCPCR also used the day to launch a bio-metric identity card system for street connected children and the Street to School campaign – calling existing government systems to cater for street-connected children.
The invitation for Team India to be received in Delhi came after street child newspaper, Balaknama “Children’s voice” reported Team India’s preparations for the Street Child World Cup. The newspaper, backed by Indian charity CHETNA, founded and written by street children for street children, giving a platform and a voice to those children so often marginalized and ignored. Balaknama focuses on reporting issues like child marriage, police brutality and abuse, campaigning for change for street children, making people listen.
The boys from Team India head out to Rio de Janeiro with one goal – to inspire a generation of millions and show India that street children are somebodies.
The draw for the Street Child World Cup took place on Tuesday 18 March from Fluminense FC, Team India were drawn in Group 3 alongside teams from Kenya, Mauritius, Pakistan and USA.
You can watch Team India’s Shiva and Hashim’s stories here.
Follow Team India and all 24 teams at the Street Child World Cup with live online updates at streetchildunited.org from Friday 28 March.
No child should have to live on the streets.
“When ever people come across me they laugh. It seems like my mouth is zipped because they talk for us. I wish they could give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”
“It was a privilege to be invited to the launch of the Street Child World Cup at Downing Street. It gives children a voice through football, sales a platform to express their rights and celebrate their abilities – I’m proud to add my support.”
“I know from personal experience just what power football can have to inspire and change young people’s lives whatever their background or nationality. This is what the Street Child World Cup is all about and I give it my full support.”