During my last year as global chairman of Baker McKenzie, I was fortunate enough to become involved with a project that left a lasting impression on me – our work supporting Street Youth of the world across eight cities in four continents. The first campaigns involved significant consultation with the kids and was organized last January in Rio de Janeiro by the Consortium for Street Children, the leading international network of organizations working for street children’s rights, the UK charity Street Child United and with support from Baker McKenzie.
It was brought home to me when Brazilian colleagues told me of the scale of the daily and cruel reality faced by many kids endangered by the lack of very basic rights, home, education and health. Let me illustrate this with the story I heard from Jose – not his real name. His story touched me deeply and he was very vocal during the meeting.
Jose shared his unique perspectives on life on the street – such as the lack of chance to join an elementary school because he had no birth certificate, or how he felt unsafe during the major sports events held in his city last year to which he and others like him were very much uninvited.
Jose’s speech directly fed into the new United Nations international guidance on how governments can fulfill their human rights obligations to this group of children. Street-connected children – who may live or work on the street, or simply spend much of their time in public spaces – experience severe and ongoing violations of rights and threats. They are constantly exposed to violence, adult abuse, drugs and crime. They experience extreme stigma and discrimination, and are often unable to access food, clean water, shelter, healthcare and basic services. Jose does not know what it is to have a dream or aspirations to a better life.
Perceived as a hard-to-reach group, street children are too often ignored by our society and made invisible in policy agendas. It is my hope that we, the responsible business leaders, can continue to do more to promote the voices of this often resilient and resourceful group of young people to be heard at the highest level.
Taking advantage of Baker McKenzie’s Global footprint, we were able to support seven similar consultation events held throughout the first half of last year, all in different markets across the world. For this pro bono initiative we counted on the support of our local team but also our US attorneys working closely with Brazilian colleagues. It gave us a sense of how many Joses are out there – in different languages and time zones but all faced with the same challenges and threats. I hope we can continue to make a difference in improving Jose’s life and future.More Testimonials