(ATR) Street children from around the world have called on the IOC to recognize the rights of their peers as cities prepare for the Olympic Games.
Children from nine countries were in Rio de Janeiro on March 14 to 20 for the 2016 Street Child Games, an Olympic style competition for street children worldwide. The Games were run by the charity Street Child United, who has organized two Street Child World Cups in South Africa and Brazil in 2010 and 2014 respectively.
As part of the Games, the street children held a congress and general assembly where they presented a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach and a UN-style resolution calling for the recognition of street children’s rights to education, protection against violence, and legal identity.
The letter urged the IOC to enforce the human rights protections added to the Olympic Charter in the Agenda 2020 reforms passed in December 2014. It said that the IOC must "put pressure on local government to halt human rights violations" ahead of Rio 2016 and every subsequent Games.
"The Olympic Games should not harm the local population at any time," the letter read. "Although host states bear the responsibility for the abuses that occur in their countries, sport governing bodies such as the IOC also have the responsibility to respect and assure human rights."
The Street Child Games Finals were held on March 20 where the children competed in the 100 meter dash, the 100 meter hurdles, the long jump, and shot put. The Games were opened by Joe Hewitt, head of Street Child Brazil, who called on the world to use "the power of sport to change the way street children are perceived and treated."
Hewitt told Around the Rings that the charity hoped to use the platform of mega-sporting events to grab the world’s attention on an issue that affects 150 million street children worldwide according to the United Nations.
"We’re hosting the Games ahead of the Olympic and Paralympics, and while we are a great believer in the ideals behind the Olympics, we want street children to have their platform in an Olympic year," Hewitt said.
"There is one common language here and that is sport. You’ll see it with the children, they have bonded through sport. We see that sport can overcome language barriers, different cultures, and is really just a unified power and we greatly believe in what sport can do for street children’s rights."
Many of the children competing in Rio also participated in the 2014 Street Child World Cup. For them the actual sporting events were secondary to seeing friends from around the world, and the empowerment that participating in the Street Child Games gives them.
Ronalyn, a representative from team Philippines, told ATR that becoming involved in Street Child United has been a "stepping stone" in her life. She added that coming to Rio allowed her to see her friends from around the world, and through the Games they can communicate even if they don't speak the same language.
For Innocent Bigirimanna, a member of team Burundi, the athletic events were secondary to the work that continues to be done in his home country to help at-risk kids. Innocent was brought in by New Generation, the Burundi- based organization that partners with Street Child United, at the age of four. Now 18, he told ATR that after the Games he hopes to take on a leadership role in the group to help the next generation of street kids.
"I want to say that street kids are able to do a lot of things, and we have to change the way they think that we are not able to do anything," Bigirimanna said to ATR.
"Through this competition, through the opportunity that these actions give to street kids, I think not only people from Burundi, but the whole world, are going to know that street kids are able to change the world. These Games have helped all of us to keep in touch and to look forward to what we are going to do to keep doing well in our countries and in the whole world."
Click here to see a gallery from the event.
Written by Aaron Bauer in Rio de Janeiro
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