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Silva lining for footballing street children

Brazil’s Gilberto Silva in action for Arsenal in 2007

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Sep 6 –  Brazilian Gilberto Silva will be back at a World Cup next year but the 2002 World Cup winner won’t be in Russia because of the quadrennial showpiece but for the Street Child version.

The 40-year-old former Arsenal midfielder — who admitted despite his own impoverished background he cried when he heard the story of one Indian street child — went to Moscow for the Street Child summit earlier this year in his capacity as global ambassador for the organisation.

Next year’s third running of the event will probably take place in May, before the World Cup.

The seven-a-side tournament has attracted 12 boys teams and 12 girls teams with a Uganda girls side appearing for the first time.

For Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Manchester police and now CEO of Retrak, an organisation devoted to helping street children get their lives back on track, it gives the Ugandan girls the platform to highlight an issue that blights society in the country.

“We are using it as a platform to highlight the issues of girls being forced into early marriage and being trafficked to Kampala to be domestic servants and then physically and sexually abused,” the 58-year-old told AFP at the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester.

Fahy, whose organisation is also involved in South America, says the problem is endemic in the country where acquaintances or family members living in Kampala come to families either in rural areas or slum communities and take the girls away promising them a brighter future.

“They end up treating them differently to the other children in the family, making them work early in the morning to late at night so they lose out on education and then they get abused,” said Fahy.

The former policeman has so far organised for 13 teams of police officers to go to Uganda, Ethiopia and Malawi and liaise with their counterparts there, educating them on how to treat the street children better.

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– ‘Advocate for girls rights’ –

“If they object they get thrown out onto the streets and sometimes the family will make false allegations to police that they have been stealing,” he said.

“This results in them being stigmatised and the child feels they can’t go back to the family they have been taken from.

“We work with the child and the family to accept them to return to normal family life and into school.”

For John Wroe, the CEO of Street Child World Cup, the goal — “that no child has to live on the streets” — is a simple and noble one even if many might be sceptical of it being achieved.

“Canada have a 10-year campaign for ending homelessness and they will be using the World Cup for this as a platform to bring this to the attention of the Canadian people,” Wroe told AFP.

Fahy — who has lobbied successfully for the Ugandan government to buy an acre of land for a centre for the girls — is under no illusions of how important the tournament can be for the girls and their plight.

“This will give it a massive profile because of the importance of soccer in Africa,” he said.

“We will use it as an opportunity to use all these girls as ambassadors to go back to Uganda and speak out and advocate for girls rights.”

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Wroe, who says the Russians have been extremely co-operative in facilitating the organisation of the tournament, says the example of a young boy in South Africa called Andille — who lived under a tree on the beach in Durban and would scramble up it when the police came to round him up — makes his work worthwhile.

“He said to me ‘I am nothing to people when I am a street child but I become a person when I am playing football’,” said Wroe.

“Now he is a barista in Durban his boss says he is his most reliable employee.

“He is the first to arrive and last to leave, he works six and a half days a week and in his time off is making a home for his mum.”

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