Identity, Perception and Visibility

I have been spending the week reading more journals, reports and articles and watching numerous documentaries just to gain more knowledge about how discrimination affects street children. It’s a very interesting topic and I’m already finding it difficult trying not to talk to everyone I see about street children and StreetInvest. However, while choosing discrimination as a topic for my dissertation, I didn’t truly think about how dark it can be. It has made me realise my own naivety, humans really can be horrific to one another in ways that you can’t imagine.

Having said that, it is always my aim to stay positive. I believe that, although it can get very tough reading about the injustice and abuse that these children face on a daily basis, it is also inspiring. Through StreetInvest and other partnership organisations, the children are able to use their experiences as a positive force for change. Having a trustworthy support network allows the children to talk about their lives and, in turn, the NGOs can relay this information to advocate policy change.

Reading about discrimination and stigmatisation has given me a new perception. While I was reading one journal I just thought to myself “how can people sit back and let this happen?” Then it hit me, people are socialised to be against street children. If authorities such as police and the media are saying that the children are delinquents and portraying them as a group rather than an individual then it is very easy to take that as fact. One child said “nobody treats us like human beings.” This is why it is so important for street children’s voices to be heard, not only by street workers who they trust, but also by governments, authorities and the general public.

The video below was a social experiment done by UNICEF. This perfectly encompasses this perception about street children and, in turn, a question surrounding poverty. What would you do in this situation?

 

“I think I’m a street child because everybody calls me that.”

 

One of the papers that I read focused on the identity of street children. Officially, street children are regarded by the authorities and governments as ‘invisible’ because they often do not have access to their birth certificates, identity cards or even have family or friends to vouch for them. Often they do not know their birthday, their age, exactly where their families are. They cannot afford an education or health care meaning there are no records of them.

Although ‘invisible,’ their presence is very visible. Street children are perceived as “untidy” and would rather displace them to get them off the streets than help fix the causes. An example of this is at sporting events. In Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics will be held this month, inequality is one of the main social problems. Instead of creating jobs, putting some of the money earned from such a prestigious event into housing or supporting the street children in getting their life together, the authorities have the power to effectively wipe the children off the streets. The aim of this is to hide such a big part of Brazil from the camera so that it does not make for an unpleasant experience for those watching the Olympics.

This week I also sent my interviews off to street workers in Kolkata (India) and Freetown (Sierra Leone). As the notification came through that the email was sent, I felt a rush of mixed excitement and relief. I was doing the thing that I was so worried for months about not being able to achieve and it only took a click of a button to reach the other side of the world! My final blog post will be about some of my findings from these interviews.

 

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