By Sonia Elks
LONDON - Dozens of young people from around the world swapped life on the streets for the grandeur of Lord's cricket ground on Tuesday as they took part in a tournament to raise awareness and change perceptions of street children.
Up to 150 million young people are forced to live or work on the streets, according to United Nations estimates, exposing them to abuse and trafficking.
Organisers of the first Street Child Cricket World Cup at the famed London ground said they wanted to alter perceptions and demand change from authorities, who often turn a blind eye.
"These children are often invisible, they are shunned," said John Wroe, the co-founder of the Street Child United group, which organised the event.
"If you change the way street children are seen, we can begin to change the way that street children are treated ... We are about creating a global platform, using sport, for their voices to be heard," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The tournament brought together children who previously lived or worked on the streets in seven countries: Bangladesh, India, Mauritius, Tanzania, Nepal, West Indies, and England.
Some were victims of trafficking after they were sold into servitude by their own families as a result of poverty.
Children in the tournament were cheered on by crowds of spectators as they played in bright sunshine on the final day of the tournament on Tuesday.
Members of the South Indian team leapt for joy and ran onto the pitch to high five and celebrate as they were announced the winners after triumphing over England in the final.
After the final, teams described their experiences and urged leaders to act.
"We are not asking for much - just to protect us," said one statement from the West Indies team.
Key demands included the right to identity papers registering their existence, equal access to education and protection from violence.
"We want to go to school, not to work," said Daren Dubois, age 15, from the Mauritius team.
"We are discriminated against because we are poor. We cannot get identity papers like a passport. Often we have to work from a young age, for example selling fish at seven years or younger. Sometimes we are very hungry."
Wroe said pressure from previous street child sports events had brought real results.
Meanwhile, for those taking part, the tournament offered a chance to leave the challenges of the past behind and look forward to bringing glory for their country.
Jasmin Akter, 18, a former Rohingya child refugee on the England team, said she was "really proud" to be playing on the same ground as her sporting heroes, such as England player Ben Stokes.
"We have seen them on TV playing on this pitch, and now me standing on this pitch is a privilege I want to capture for the rest of my life," she said.