Using the term “Street Child” a post-summit analysis

Posted on the 31st October 2013

In September 2013, rx Street Child United hosted our Cambridge Summit inviting team leaders from across the world. Cambridge was an opportunity for shared learning, pilule support and planning for those working on the front lines with street children. One discussion to come out of the summit was the use of the term “street child”. Craig Burrows MBE founder of Team Philippines gives his analysis.

Liberating “Street Children” by Craig Burrows MBE:

“No getting round it, illness the term “street child” has negative connotations – smelly, dirty, criminal, drug dependant, etc. so choosing to use the name Street Child World Cup has caused some to question if we are not labelling children and keeping them trapped in an experience they would rather forget, or deny, by using a derogative term. However, history has shown that one way to change society is to redeem appellations of abuse and liberate them so that those abused by the labels can overcome and be proud they survived such insults, this helps them take pride in their shared experience, rising above those demeaning them. Two extreme examples of this could be how some members of the gay community use the word ‘queer’ among themselves or some in the African-American community use the ‘n-word’, yet both groups would be disgusted by others using these labels. On the other hand has the use of “street child” become so negative that only a survivor of the streets should be free to use it?

“Street child” is a descriptive term far more than an insulting one, thus used by agencies working to change the lives of children, so we should be careful that we do not apply more damaging connotations to it making it lose its usefulness. It actually empowers us to work for change for those children still on the streets and any child who has spent even one night on the streets should not be made ashamed they had to, but proud to say “I survived the streets!” There but for an accident of birth go you or I, so maybe thinking of them as “survivors of the streets” can help us find a better frame of reference to see it can be used in the context of what someone has suffered rather than as an insult or plain description. Children on the streets need to be survivors as odds are stacked against them in the same way as maybe someone dealing with the pain of cancer, and that may provide us with a more useful context for in a similar way they can say “I am a cancer survivor”. Also, some with cancer do not survive so there is a deserved sense of empowerment thinking of yourself as a survivor at such a negative time. Also the majority will always bear some psychological or even physical scars but we would never condemn someone with cancer as being a drain on our resources, time, medical services, etc. as they did not choose to suffer cancer. In the same way no child would choose to become a street child, if they had a choice they would probably want to be a loved child of a stable, well-off couple and provided the best opportunities.

All street children have a story about why they ended up on the streets, stories of suffering, abuse, abandonment all of which point a finger at a broken world and societies that have not been able to care for the weakest amongst us as they should have. Thus, in the same way we cannot choose our genetic code which can cause disease, street children cannot choose which family or society they were born into. All of us should care and know we are all partly to blame for the way the world is and society functions. Some children do not survive the streets, in the same way some with cancer do not survive, but the fact that many do survive, and can even be stronger because they have learnt from experiences – however negative – and made it to the other side means we have a responsibility

None of us would wish to say I survived cancer, neither would we choose to have been street children rather we would want to be known by our name. The tagline of this Street Child World Cup is “I am someone,” this reflects the need for individual identity and rights so what better way could we think of redeeming the term “street child” than getting children from the streets to compete representing their nations – many with the backing of their national football associations – in the Street Child World Cup? In this way they are not just saying “I am somebody” they are representing the possibility that exists for every child – being proud to have their nation know their name and cheer them on. Now that is liberation for them and all street children. So is it not time for us to liberate ourselves from our ivory towered discussion and reclaim the term “street child” so that children on the street, and who have survived the streets, are not just symbols of abuse or victims of suffering but survivors deserving of equal human rights? As one girl said, “I am proud to say I was a street child”, she does not want our pity, but she should demand our respect.”

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