Child rights must become a central component of future event planning, according to the Chief Executive of a global campaign which uses Mega Sporting Events to raise awareness of child abuse and exploitation.
The ‘It’s a Penalty’ campaign was initially launched during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and is supported by a series of high-profile sports stars, including Usain Bolt, Cathy Freeman and Francois Pienaar, who feature in a 45-second film.
This year it will take place during four major international sporting events over the next three months:
- the Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis
- the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea
- the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens
- the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
During the events airlines, hotels and Games venues will actively promote the campaign, for example by publishing articles and distributing educational leaflets on the signs and symptoms of child abuse, and wristbands with hotlines to contact.
Sarah de Carvalho, the Chief Executive of It’s a Penalty, explained that international sports events provide “a platform to communicate about an issue which is global” which is viral because “no country is exempt from child abuse and exploitation”.
“Secondly, we do know that when there is an influx of thousands of people into a city for a major sporting event, vulnerable children are put at higher risk,” she said.
Since the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Terre des Hommes – who orchestrate the Children Win campaign – have worked with sports governing bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA to ensure that human rights are incorporated into future planning for events. For example, thanks to the support of the Sport and Rights Alliance, the 2024 and 2028 Olympics – to be held in Paris and Los Angeles respectively – will be the first to have specific human rights criteria including in the Host City Contract.
Sarah shares Terre des Hommes’ view that the next priority is for such contracts to specifically include reference to the protection of child rights.
“We all know that whenever there is an influx of people, there will be unscrupulous people on the ground who will exploit children for money unfortunately, and even more so online as well. And I think sports governing bodies are becoming more aware of this – so it is vital, right from the bidding process as Terre des Hommes are saying, that there is a commitment from the hosting city to put in place child protection.”
The ‘It’s a Penalty’ campaign encourages people to ‘say something if they see something‘ and works with local partners such as NGOs, law enforcement agencies, social services and governments to ensure information is captured and acted upon.
Sarah said: “The campaign targets the sports fans, the tourists, the athletes and local residents both online and offline, and we educate about the issues about child sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking.
“We also educate about the penalties for offenders and raise awareness about the extra-territorial legislation which is provisioned in law for countries to prosecute their citizens for abuse of children if it takes place abroad. So not only do we target paedophiles who take advantage of a major sporting event, but also we want to raise awareness amongst people who might be opportunists so they don’t find themselves inadvertently on the wrong side of the law.
“We also educate about the signs to look out for, so we equip people with necessary mechanisms to identify and report a crime whilst in the home country, or at home. Then we encourage everyone – if you see something, say something.”
It’s a Penalty is working with the IOC, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the organisers of the Super Bowl, and Sarah explained how the campaign is contributing to the legacy of such events.
“We work with the national NGOs, law enforcers and governments in order for there to be a legacy. In other words, we don’t just leave – at the end of it, there is a continuance. For example, in the forthcoming Commonwealth Games we are partnering with Braveheart which is a well-known NGO on the ground in Australia that specifically works in this area. As a result of working with us, they will get a higher profile and be able to continue the work after the campaign.”