A new summit sets out to share best practice on working with street-connected children. Despite growing numbers globally, street children are still missing from policy debates
Children‘s rights experts and grassroots professionals from 20 countries will gather in Cambridge, England this week for a conference that aims to break new ground in thinking, practice and advocacy around work with street-connected children.
Organisers believe the Changing the Game summit is the biggest global gathering of representatives of organisations working with children living on or at risk of living on the streets. Hosted by Street Child United, the charity behind the Street Child World Cup football tournament that takes place before the Fifa event in Rio de Janeiro in 2014, the summit will discuss the international response to the millions of children who are in urgent need of protection, shelter and support.
Topics include advocacy with street children, gender and identity, the connection between street life and human trafficking, entrepreneurship for street youth, psychosocial support and sport for development. Project leaders will also share expertise and best practice.
The exact number of children living on the world’s streets is impossible to quantify but is believed to run into tens of millions, possibly even higher than 100 million, according to Unicef. The number is believed to be increasing amid globalisation and rapid urbanisation in the developing world. It includes children who live permanently or part-time on the streets, often because they have been orphaned due to conflict or disease, or because they have fled home because of violence or hardship.
Among those attending the summit is Mutani Yangwe, founder of the Tanzanian NGO TSC Sports Academy, which will send a boys’ and a girls’ team to Rio next year. “The global community is failing street children,” he said. “The Cambridge gathering is a unique opportunity to help change this through sharing experience, learning from others and uniting across the world in support of street children.”
Organisers said one day of the conference will be dedicated to street-connected girls who are typically less visible on the streets than boys but face particular issues because of their gender, including domestic servitude, prostitution or sex trafficking. Girls are known to be harder for projects to engage with and often the situations that they have left at home make it harder to reintegrate them with their families.
The gathering is timely for leaders of the two organisations that comprise the Brazilian delegation and are involved in a national campaign for the first public policy on street children in Brazil, where a recent official census counted 23,973 street children and adolescents, though campaigners say the real number is much higher.
“I hope to be able to contribute [to the summit] on the question of how to initiate a process for the implementation of a public policy that guarantees that all children and adolescents get the best support possible so they can leave the streets, be included in schools or apprenticeships, or jobs, and return to their families and communities,” said Bernardo Rosemeyer, director of the Pequeno Nazareno in Fortaleza, north-eastern Brazil.
German-born Rosemeyer, whose organisation has been commissioned by the Brazilian government to lead the process of developing the first national public policy, is frustrated by the lack of high-level focus on street children’s rights.
“The topics of sexual exploitation and child labour, for example, are two areas of work that are well financed. But finances are scarce or non-existent for children who live on the streets,” he said. “My expectation for the summit is to try to understand why still today there is no international focus on street-connected children and adolescents? Why don’t the declarations that do exist ever reach the UN?”
Pequeno Nazareno will send a boys’ team to the Street Child World Cupin Rio, and a Brazilian girls’ team will come from the Ibiss foundation, which works in 60 slum communities in Rio de Janeiro. The tournament itself will bring together more than 200 former street children on and off the football pitch to raise awareness of the rights of street children, and the summit is a planning event for the leaders of teams from projects in countries as diverse as Mauritius, Indonesia, the US, Egypt, Burundi and Nicaragua. England will be represented at the Rio event by a team of girls who have experienced homeless, from the New Horizons project, London.
Campaigners say events such as the Fifa World Cup and Olympics have a direct impact on the lives of street children and all vulnerable children through displacement, sex trafficking and illegal round-ups.
The inaugural Street Child World Cup, in South Africa in 2010, resulted in the Durban declaration on children’s rights (pdf), which was presented to the UN committee for human rights. Girls taking part produced astreet girl’s manifesto, which was published as part of Plan International’s 2010 Because I am a Girl report on the state of the world’s girls.
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