Protection of children from sexual exploitation in the context of major sports events

Side event, 25th session of the Human Rights Council, 11 March 2014

On 11 March 2014, in the framework of the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography organized a side event on the protection of children from sexual exploitation in the context of major sports events, as a follow-up to the thematic report on sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (A/HRC/22/54) and related side event of the previous year.

The side event was organized with a view to (i) Take stock of challenges and shed light on recent efforts undertaken in countries hosting major sports events to minimize the risks faced by children to fall victims of sexual exploitation; (ii) Share good practices and lessons learned in view of developing ethical, responsible and child protective sports events and tourism; and (iii) Make a joint call for action to states, child rights advocates, tourism and travel industry, and major sports organizations to work together to mitigate risks of sexual exploitation of children.


The event included distinguished presentations by the following panellists:


In the introductory remarks, the Special Rapporteur noted that major sports events place children at greater risk of being victims of sexual exploitation. However, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that these events also offer the opportunity to raise awareness on the risks that they can entail and insisted on the need to put child protection as a priority in tourism, travel and sports events.

H.E. Ms. Regina Maria Cordeiro Dunlop provided opening remarks on challenges and good practices regarding child protection issues in view of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. She highlighted a number of measures, such as the creation of a nationwide hotline service, and a systemic approach to the violation of children’s rights, regarding not only sexual violence, but also child labour, alcohol and drug consumption, violence in general, missing children, and other violations and concerns that may occur during major sports events. The Convergence Agenda for the Integral Protection of Children in the Context of Major Events, with the involvement of the government at the national, state and municipal levels; NGOs, private sector and IGOs, has promoted awareness raising campaigns, training of professionals of the security sector, and the distribution of guidelines to the media on the integral protection of children. The Brazilian Government has also developed a smartphone application (“Protect Brazil”) that provides information on the location and access to public facilities and social services for the protection of the rights of children in the cities that will host the 2014 World Cup, thus making every citizen a potential protector of the child. Regional cooperation has also been fostered, in particular in border regions, based on the "Niño Sur Initiative", with a particular focus on situations of child victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

H.E. Mr. Remigiusz A. Henczel made a statement on the best practices in the context of the 2012 European Football Championship co-organized by Poland. He recalled that before the championship, a number of preventive measures were adopted in the framework of the biannual National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, such as training and awareness raising campaigns, and the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee for combatting and preventing trafficking in children. In particular, he highlighted a campaign targeted at potential victims and perpetrators, through lectures provided by trained educators on the risks associated to trafficking and sexual exploitation, and on the available psychological and legal support. In addition, he mentioned the cooperation of the Polish law enforcement agency with its counterparts in the UK and the US regarding travel of perpetrators. He acknowledged that child grooming is an emerging phenomenon in Poland, and in order to combat it effectively, Polish police has been authorized to use special methods such as undercover operations. Finally, he noted that currently child victims can benefit from professional support from the National Intervention and Consultation Centre for Polish and Foreign Victims of Trafficking.

Ms. Florence Bruce summarized the findings of the report produced by Brunel University London and commissioned by the Oak Foundation on “Child Exploitation and the FIFA World Cup: a review of risks and protective interventions”1. She explained that the research explored the current state of knowledge regarding sporting events and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), as well as programmatic responses to date and their effectiveness, with the aim of informing action by host countries and providing guidance on prevention and protection measures before, during and after world cup events. She summarised the conclusions of the report as follows: (i) mega sporting events create major risks for sexual exploitation of children; (ii) there is little data on whether risks translate into harm; (iii) most attention is given to trafficking and sexual exploitation when other problems such as labour and displacement are probably bigger problems; (iv) children are seen as collateral damages; and (v) it should not be assumed that no data means no problem; lack of evidence is most likely related to the absence of monitoring and evaluation. She highlighted as good news the trend to do more to protect children before, during and after major sporting events, and that good practices are beginning to emerge. However, she underscored that gaze of policy makers and planners must broaden to include child exploitation together with other concerns. She concluded that FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could show leadership to mitigate risks for children by, inter alia, institutionalising child impact assessment in the bidding processes.

Mr. Ignacio Packer, of Terre des Hommes International Federation, developed his presentation on sustainable prevention strategies and key partnerships around six key messages: (i) trafficking and exploitation during sports events should not hide other indirect effects and long term concerns such as housing, child labour and displacement; (ii) efforts need to be put in place to define what exactly happens when mega sports events occur, including their collateral damage to children; (iii) more evidence is required in this regard; (iv) we need to look on the long term, not only on the window of opportunity offered by specific events; (v) the big business of the mega sports events requires that organizations adapt language to the business sector; and (vi) we need to speak to the key teams that hold in their hands the bidding process. He stressed that Terre des Hommes is adapting its scope and direction towards the responsibility of governments and companies that are being awarded in the bidding process, which should introduce a child protection focus. In this regard, he stressed that partnership with the FIFA, IOC and governments is very important, as well as more coordination among organizations.

Ms. Guillemette Vuillard, of ECPAT France, presented the “Don’t Look Away!” Campaign aimed at fighting sexual exploitation in travel and tourism by reducing social tolerance and increasing responsible behaviours. The campaign is based on four axis: awareness raising campaigns, assessment of reporting mechanisms in Africa, reinforcement of online reporting mechanisms in Europe, and capacity building and lobbying, with a focus on reporting to end impunity. In respect of the upcoming world cup, she observed that the campaign will be disseminated in Brazil and 16 European countries, with involvement of the tourism industry, the sports media and the tourism sector in order to reach supporters and travellers. She stressed that the campaign informs about the law and the risk of punishment, targeting potential abusers. She highlighted that it offers concrete tools to report suspicious situations or behaviours, such as a hotline (Brazil Disk 100) and a link to the European online reporting platform2. Finally, she mentioned ECPAT’s partnership with the social branch of the industry in Brazil (SESI) and its “Viravida” programme, which provides psychosocial support and professional training to child victims of sexual exploitation, with 12,000 beneficiaries and the objective to open in cities hosting the world cup.

During the debate, participants mentioned other initiatives, such as the “It’s a penalty!” campaign to prevent sexual exploitation of children during the world cup3. UNICEF recalled that Children’s Rights and Business Principles could serve as a useful framework to engage the business sector in child prevention and protection activities.

With a view to ensure that these efforts are effective and sustainable in the long term, participants agreed on the need to involve more strongly major sport organizations, such as FIFA and IOC, as well as the business sector and hosting countries. This requires further analysis of the approach and message to deliver by NGOs and the UN, highlighting the positive effects of such an involvement. Participants observed that there are at least 100 organizations working on the protection of children from exploitation in major sports events, and agreed that it is essential to work together with one voice and deliver one message to key players, including major sport organizations, to reduce their tolerance to the phenomenon.

In her closing remarks, the Special Rapporteur summarized the main conclusions of the event: (i) it is generally agreed that major sports events place children at greater risk to be victims of sexual exploitation; (ii) evidence in this regard is still lacking; (iii) the Governments of Poland and Brazil, through their engagement in prevention campaigns, have proven that a country is not stigmatised by committing itself in the struggle against the sexual exploitation of children in the context of major sports events. On the contrary, it shows its commitment to ethical, responsible and child protective sports and tourism, and reinforces its engagement towards the promotion and protection of child rights; (iv)   major sports events can be used as a catalyst to implement child protective strategies and to strengthen cooperation among various stakeholders to mitigate harm; (v) long term campaigns are important to involve major sport organizations in a sustainable way before, during and after major sports events; (vi) it is essential that stakeholders involved in these campaigns deliver jointly a common message in order to enhance impact.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the need to involve and build partnerships with the FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, with a view to ensuring child protective environments during major sports events. Finally, she reiterated her commitment to work on the protection of children from sexual exploitation in major sports events, and noted that she will convey the aforementioned messages to her successor.