“When people see me on the streets they think I am worthless – they say I am just a street child, but when they see me playing football, they say I am a person, I am person like them.”
– Andile, Team South Africa 2010
Whilst the world gears up for the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East, few know there is another World Cup taking place in Qatar this year. It may not offer the same star-studded glamour Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi bring to the biggest football event on the planet, but this World Cup carries parallel importance.
A World Cup not just about football. A World Cup that gives hope. A World Cup that brings together the most vulnerable children on the planet. This October, the Street Child World Cup will take place in Doha, Qatar, shining a spotlight on children living in street situations and championing their rights for a more fair and just society.
The UN estimates that there are up to 150 million street children in the world that number is likely far greater; many are not registered at birth and remain unknown to government organisations. A lack of formal identification is often the first stumbling block; welfare education and healthcare are all but impossible to access because they have no legal ID and therefore, no way to improve their situation. Without adequate protection these children are often exploited and exposed to violence, with little or no protection from harm.
So, what is the Street Child World Cup and how does it work? John Wroe, Street Child United CEO and founder explains:
“The Street Child World Cup is what it says on the tin. An actual football World Cup. For street children. Children initially without birth certificates, let alone passports or visas, being invited to play football on a global stage with the world’s media watching, ready to tell their stories.”
From Bolivia to Burundi; India to Indonesia; there will be 28 teams of girls and boys representing 24 countries in Qatar this October. While football unites teams on the pitch, away from the grass, the children connect through art and child-friendly Congress sessions.
The Congress sessions are carefully led in a safe space that allows the young people to talk openly. It’s during these sessions that many of the young people recognise they are not alone, that their circumstances are not their fault. More importantly, they are taught they have rights: the right to identity; the right to access education; the right to be protected from violence; the right for gender equality. Fundamental human rights that every person deserves.
It’s these rights that form the pillars supporting the platform to advocate for change, and it’s change that underpins every Street Child World Cup. Street Child United, the organisers of the event, work specifically to combat the negative perceptions and treatment of street children; each event creates a lasting legacy that positively impacts the lives of not just the young people who participate but all street children globally.
Since its inception in 2010, Street Child United has successfully helped stop the roundups of street children in Durban, South Africa, by highlighting Umthombo’s ten-year campaign to end them. In 2014, following the success of Team Pakistan – who were welcomed home by 7000 people at Karachi airport after reaching that year’s final – the Pakistani government undertook the first census of street children. Following the 2018 SCWC in Moscow, seven participating teams were able to take their voice and demands directly to their national governments.
This year the legacy focuses heavily on education. With Qatar Foundation as the event partner, this sits at the heart of their work and aligns with their ethos of unlocking human potential through education.
Andile’s words are a testament to football’s ability to unite and empower on a global scale. Whilst the SCWC won’t quite deliver the football skills of Messi or Ronaldo, its participants will inspire in equal measure.
Having overcome challenges most would struggle to comprehend, this is their time. Their time to wear their national colours. Their time to represent their country. Their time to tell the world, ‘I am somebody’.