Tom Hewitt and the Surfers Not Street Children team are committed to changing the way that society perceives and treats street children. They have a vision of a new “popular global movement” around the rights and plight of street children. Tom is a campaigner and is known for passionately fighting the forced removals (round-ups), by police, of street children that used to happen when there were international conferences and events in Durban. He became a media go-to person in South Africa when the issue became a hot topic in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was very vocal in exposing the practice. Thankfully, the campaign was successful and round-ups targeting street children are no longer practiced in Durban. The issue is one that Tom is still passionate about though, as it is a global phenomenon affecting street children in many cities around the world.
Here are the three campaigns that Tom and his Surfers Not Street Children surf/advocacy team have committed to for 2014/15.
Campaign 1: A popular movement around the rights and plight of street children: Tom was deeply inspired by the Brazilian national movement of street children throughout the late eighties and early nineties. This movement brought about constitutional changes to protect street children. It was led by a fusion of passionate activists, street children and former street children. Tom says, “This was so significant and brought key changes in Brazil. It was inspiring but eventually faded away, like many issues, being swept aside on Development agendas by the panic around HIV/AIDS at that time. From my experience of also having been part of policy development around street children, I believe that it is crucial to build a popular global movement, not only to assist with policy change but to ensure that these polices are actually enacted. Protecting the revolution is as critical as bringing it about! I believe that the time is right to join together in a popular global movement around street children. It’s a global phenomenon and street children are oppressed in many ways throughout the world. There are some good national policies in places such as South Africa and Brazil, which should be an inspiration for other countries and there is also good research from a number of areas around the world but, without a popular movement alongside these, they are not reflected as much as they should be in change on the ground. For a movement of integrity, we need to be drawing inspiration, knowledge, strength, and courage from “conscientized” street children and former street children themselves. No one person or organisation can be a movement, but together we can be the movement that street children both deserve and are part of driving.” #thestreetchildmovement Coming soon: Tom’s paper entitled: Street-Child Consciousness.
Campaign 2: Globally ending round-ups (forced removals) of street children as a method of “cleaning” the streets.
Tom and Umthombo used the spotlight of the FIFA World Cup to force the hand of the local municipality to stop the round-ups.
He believes that it needs to be seen as a totally unacceptable practice globally and guarantees around ensuring that street children are not rounded-up should be a pre-requisite for cities hosting major sporting events and conferences. He also believes that this can happen through a co-ordinate campaign and monitoring. Tom is currently writing a book on the subject.
Street Children have become an “image” issue for many municipalities around the world. They cannot outwardly state this, so they have conveniently painted street children, in peoples minds, as a “safety and security” threat thus justifying enforcement responses such as forced and often violent police removals. Tom believes that this manipulation at a philosophical level is hugely dangerous and has resulted in the oppression of street children in many cities as they try and “clean-up” what thet percieve as an image problem. He believes that street children are a social development phenomenon which calls for a totally different response; one based on compassion, engagement, psychosocial services and empowerment.
Tell Tom your stories: Do you live in an area of the world where street children are forcefully removed to “clean-up” the streets around conferences or events? Perhaps the children are routinely removed out of sight by police, security guards or municipal officials even in the absence of special events. Tom would be very interested in your experiences. Please email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign 3: The call for psychosocial services to be central to programmes empowering street children:
All street children are, to varying degrees, traumatised. Therefore, getting them “off” the streets is just part of empowering them to be able to have a transformed future. Tom believes that true empowerment of street children is ensuring that they are able to begin and continue a journey of psychological healing. This recovery is complicated as it will take a lot longer than the period of “getting them off the streets.” This means that firstly, local street children agencies need to have the right professionals and secondly, have to be far reaching into the post-street life period of the child or partnered with the right type of community based psychosocial care services who can continue this healing process with the child. These services are often non-existent. Tom believes that this challenge is one of the most serious problems in terms of developing appropriate responses to the street child phenomenon. Most street children agencies cannot afford the type of professionals needed for this. Some countries simply don’t have these professionals. However, the conversation is one that we should be urgently having. Without providing psychosocial services we could be setting kids up to fail in their lives.