(First ever!) Street Children World Cup, Durban, March 2010

Well, it's all been a bit quiet from me lately, but spring is in the air and there's something really exciting happening in March!

As many of you will know, South Africa is gearing up to host the FIFA World Cup 2010.  Now, I don't really follow football.  I used to, in a way, but then I guess I got distracted.  I do love a World Cup however – there's something about the camaraderie, isn't there?  Everyone jumping up and down, staring at a screen, biting their nails, roaring cheers, grown men's tears.  It's a riot. 

My interest in international sports affairs has been further piqued by the release of Invictus – the fantastic film starring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon (as the captain of the Springboks in 1995 South Africa) – which highlights how sport creates real social solidarity.  Truly inspiring.  I wept pretty much all the way through, and was genuinely on tenterhooks for the whole final match – of course I didn't actually watch the South Africa rugby world cup final when it happened in 1995!

In this film, during the 'big match', a touching secondary scene develops outsidethe stadium, where initially two white policemen and a young black skinny street boy are threatening each other.  The boy, it transpires, is onlyinching closer to them to listen to their car radio; to hear the final match.  By the winning goal (Try? Kick?), they are all hugging and crying; the boy swinging a bottle of coke and sitting on the police car bonnet.  All friends!  Black, white, policeman, street child – all bound together through that precious winning-side magic; that sporting camaraderie.  Ahhh.

Touching, but unrealistic, even in today's world.  The whole build up to an event like this is really not good news for street children.  'Clean-up' operations are common. Clean up operations can take the form of quite serious mass murders of children, as in Rio in the 1990s, for example. Worryingly, these high profile international sports affairs create an invigorated desire to spruce up the image of a city.  This often means that the urchins have to go.

Enforced roundups of this nature have already started in Durban, and are probably happening as we speak: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-01-22-rounded-up-and-shipped-out:

Kheto Ngcobo said: "Sometimes they kick us withtheir boots and they beat us with their hands. Once, when a fight brokeout [between two knife-wielding adults] in the police van, I gotsprayed with pepper. My eyes burned and burned."  Ngcobo was one of 14 street children rounded up by police this pastweekend and dumped – with adults – at a safe house in Hammarsdale,about 40km outside Durban. He said that, with others, he escaped andstole a train ride back to the city.

Taking children away, to so-called 'safe houses', is a temporary cosmetic measure rather than a long-term social solution, and can lead to systematic abuse and violence at the hands of police, and other homeless adults.  And as we see from Ngcobo's experience above, mostly it's a big fat waste of time.

Despite so many attempts to make these vulnerable children 'invisible' for the duration of the festivities, a group of organisations has set up the first ever Deloitte Street Child World Cup.  It  will take place in Durban, South Africa from March 15th to 22nd, 2010. 

Once again, football proves itself to be, at its core, a fantastic thing for young children of all ages, sexes, races – homeless or not – to build self-worth and work together for a common goal (see what I did there?).

This pioneering event will bring together teams of streetchildren from nine different countries: Brazil, India, Nicaragua,Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, the UK, Ukraine, and Vietnam.  The teams are being organised by NGOs supporting street children in their respective countries. 

So please, tell your friends, make a donation, do what you can to support these young sporting stars.  

Simply by raising awareness we make it clear that we will not tolerate state-sponsored violence against street children. This is our one big chance to make the plight of these children visible, and affect some real change in government policy all over the world.

Oh, and if you live in Durban and you have a table football table you could lend out, there are 99 children who'd like to hear from you: http://streetchildworldcup.org/get-involved/

Well, that's enough from me – keep up to date with the action on their very own blog: http://streetchildworldcup.org/blog/

My money's on Brazil! ;)

Helle

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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