For some it was the chance to emulate their national heroes at Lord’s, the hallowed Home of Cricket, after years of playing with bat and ball on the street. For others, it was the chance to compete on a global stage at a sport they had barely begun to play. But for all the children taking part, the inaugural Street Child Cricket World Cup was a game-changer.

On Tuesday May 7, teams of street-connected children filed through the famous Long Room, down the steps, past the white picket fence and on to the green for the final matches of the event, which brought young people aged 13-17 from seven countries to London and Cambridge for a three-day speed cricket tournament and mini-congress on their rights.

Champions India South made it all look so easy as their opener hit a straight six down the ground, before retiring, leaving his team needing just six for victory. The next ball confirmed this with a swipe over cow corner. England’s team, organised by Centrepoint, had also sailed through to the final with a semi-final win over Tanzania.

If you respect us, you’ll listen to us and if you listen to us, you’ll protect us,

But getting this far was anything but easy. In order for the children to take part, the frontline organisations behind eight teams from Bangladesh, England, India, Mauritius, Nepal, Tanzania and West Indies first had to obtain identity documents and passports for many of them. For Forhad Hossain, chief executive of LEEDO in Dhaka, this meant taking on legal guardianship of all his players.

One of them, 16-year-old Sopna Akter, spoke of how an identity document gives her “proof of my age to protect me against early marriage”. The risk of child marriage was among issues raised at the General Assembly at the end of the event. “If you respect us, you’ll listen to us and if you listen to us, you’ll protect us,” was the message from Team India South (one of two teams from India).

“This victory is huge for us,” said Paul Sunder Singh, founder of Karunalaya Social Services, one of the organisations behind Team India South. He said participation in previous Street Child United events has strengthened its advocacy work for marginalised children in Chennai City. Karunalaya brought teams to the SCU football world cup in Rio de Janeiro in 2014, as well as to a mini-Olympics in the city in 2016 and a second football tournament in Moscow last year. The cricket takes place ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup at Lord’s in June.

“Street Child United’s events over the past decade have helped shift the focus back to street children at a time it was starting to fade. In that time, we have had the United Nations general comment on street children and a greater awareness of the challenges,” he said.

DID YOU KNOW…

Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

Street Child United added cricket to its repertoire after teams from India and Pakistan told founder John Wroe that the immense popularity of the sport in their countries would give it huge potential to highlight the challenges for street-connected children in the run-up to the world cup. The charity is already planning another cricket tournament in India to coincide with the next world cup in four years.

The sight of youngsters with varying levels of skill delighting crowds at the world’s most prestigious cricket club only added to the charm.

Among the spectators, in uniform cream blazer, was 80-year-old Ted Clark, who has been a steward at Lord’s for 20 years. “It’s wonderful seeing all these young people coming into the game, bringing new blood into the game from all over the world. The question is: why in 2019 are children still sleeping on the streets?”

CricketSopna

Sopna Akter, 16, Bangladesh

Everybody loves cricket in Bangladesh. Until a few years ago it was hard for girls to play but now that is changing. Girls always had to be inside but things are different now. I am here because a worker from LEEDO found me on the streets in Dhaka and brought me to the shelter. My parents were very poor and my father had a heart problem so he couldn’t work.

DID YOU KNOW…

There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

When I was 12 they wanted to marry me off. But I wanted to be a doctor and so I ran away to Dhaka. A lot of girls on the streets are fleeing early marriage, as well as sexual abuse and violence. But the streets are not safe. My real father now is Forhad [Hossain] because he helped me and got me an identity document, which is proof of my age and protects me from marriage. I don’t have any contact with my parents now but if I get a good job I will go and find them. Maybe they will accept me then.”

cricketkacline

Jackline Dotto Krabohya, 16, Tanzania

In Tanzania we only started playing cricket a few months ago but the team has got to the semi-final because we have a really good work ethic. I had never even heard of cricket before but now I am really good with a bat. I want us to show that the girls can also be really good at something because we face a lot of discrimination.

I was raised by a single mother and when we were struggling to have enough to eat we went to an organisation called New Chapter. They got me playing cricket. Girls on the street in Mwanza face abuse and are at risk of early marriage. My message is that all children should have education and healthcare and be helped to come off the streets.

cricketpaul

Paul Raj, 17, captain of Team India South

I never dreamed I would have this opportunity and I am really happy I am here. I live in central Chennai opposite the station with my parents and two younger brothers. We live on the street under a plastic shelter and my mother cooks and sells food at a stall. The worst thing is that we live near a gutter and even when we eat clean food it always smells of the gutter.

We have no clean water or sanitation of any kind. On the streets in Chennai boys face a lot of problems, abuse and violence, but also being arrested by the police for crimes they did not commit when the police can’t find the real culprit. When I am older I want to help other street families. I also want to keep playing play cricket, which I started doing a few years ago. My favourite player is MS Dhoni. I am also a good batsman.

cricketang

Angelo Babiche, 13, Mauritius

I am proud to be the best batsman in my team. I live with my parents and sometimes it is really hard to survive because of how they live. We don’t have enough to eat and they have never sent me to school. This is something I feel really bad about, it makes me feel less than other people. Now I am having some vocational training and basic lessons.

I want to work as a driver and maybe own my restaurant. But even if it works out for me in the end, what about all the other children on the streets?

@JoGriffin2

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