More than 11,000 athletes representing 207 teams, including a team of 10 refugees, have traveled from all corners of the globe and for some, overcome unimaginable challenges just to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which opened last night. Earlier this year, former street children from nine countries also faced incredible hurdles just to get to their own “mini Olympics” in Rio – the Street Child Games.
The young people taking part had all experienced living on, working in or being at risk of the streets, and many had grown up without being officially recognised as existing, which is often the case for millions of street children worldwide.
Deprived of a permanent address or birth certificate, it was extremely difficult for the participants to get a passport or visa to travel to the Games. Street Child United, working with the teams and our partners, had to go to extraordinary lengths. But together we managed it, and for some of the young people it was the first time that their government had recognised them.
David, 16, a young participant from Burundi said, “I thank the people who have helped me for the first time be registered and to have my birth certificate and my passport.”
Yet being legally recognised by their country represents much more to these young people than just the chance to travel.
Paul Sunder-Singh, leader of Team India said, “Identification is vital. Without a birth certificate, or passport, or some form of legal identification, you aren’t considered a citizen.”
The teams used the global platform of the Street Child Games to remind governments that all children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) are entitled to all rights, regardless of their circumstances.
Alongside competing in Olympic-themed sports, the young people took part in a Congress and produced the Rio Resolution, addressing three rights most frequently denied to street children: the right to protection from violence, education and the right to a legal identity.
Usha, a pavement dweller from India explained why the issue needs to urgently be addressed: “The general public ostracise and stigmatise us, treating us like lesser human beings and blaming us for the way we live. But because of lack of legal identification, we can’t get the support we need to improve our situation.”
“Getting a legal identity should not be expensive, tough or complicated.”
She continued, “A lack of legal identity severely limits what you can achieve in life. Welfare, education and healthcare are all impossible for us to access, leaving us with no way out.”
“I feel proud and lucky to now have a legal identity, but also sad to know that many, many children around the world are not as lucky as me.”
Nada, representing Egypt at the Games demanded, “Every child has the right to be a full citizen whether or not they have a home.”
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