With eyes across the world turning to the World Cup, Brazil has been placed under the microscope of the worldwide media. Their scrutiny has uncovered the darker side of international sport and FIFA has had to face awkward questions about the part child exploitation has played in this event. The social condition of Brazil has never been presented in a favourable light by the media and the country is notorious for its for unequal wealth distribution and poverty. However, an international event, involving UN countries advocating equality and human rights, is made somewhat hypocritical when it is sustained by the very evils that have been publically denounced.

As a host country, Brazil makes this contradiction painfully noticeable. Brazil is the largest country in South America, with the seventh largest economy in the world. In the 2011 Forbes Global 2000 top public companies 36 Brazilian companies were listed, with one ranking fourth. But in this thriving country wealth distribution is still very uneven. The social landscape resembles that of eighteenth century England with a small proportion of the population being significantly richer than the working masses below them. There is a surprising hypocrisy then in the fact that Brazil has been a UN member state since 1945 and was in the top 10 contributors to the 2013 UN budget.

For a country with such rampant social issues, standing behind the moral values of the UN and supporting their efforts now seems like empty promises. Especially considering that in 1989 world leaders recognised the human rights of all persons under 18 by signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Promising to uphold the right to protection, education, health and the right to be heard. Consequently, child protection should have been high on the list of FIFA’s priorities, but the presence of child exploitation around major sporting events has become more prominent, and no strategy to combat it has emerged.

But as with all official terms, “child protection” has been used so many times that it no longer has any meaning. It has been thrown around by world leaders to quiet concerns without any commitment being made to an actual strategy. A report released in 2013, Child Exploitation and the FIFA World Cup: A review of risks and protective interventions,  suggests that child protection should be recognised as “harm prevention strategies and interventions”. Instead of being bandied around as an empty promise, child protection needs to be systemized into clear and enforced policies.

A lot of the inaction surrounding child exploitation in major sporting events is caused by an uncertainty about whether it is actually an issue. But there are obvious risks when there is a high concentration of people in one place, regardless of business interests. It presents opportunities for criminal activity, opportunities for the sex trade business and trafficking. Increased alcohol consumption combined with sport rivalry can give way to violence, sweeping children into the chaos. Social conditions then, can be a direct result of a major sporting event, particularly one so highly publicised and widely attended as the World Cup. Brazil’s social concerns may have been a national issue and the responsibility of their government, but if international standards are compromised it becomes an issue of universal human rights.

Investigations into previous sporting events by the Coordination Group for Human Trafficking and the London 2012 Network showed that child exploitation was rife in several aspects of international events. In the 2004 Athens Olympic games, despite child labour legislation being in existence, children were found working in factories in Greece manufacturing goods for sale. The same was found during the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, with children labouring  in factories all over the world.

Child exploitation is clearly present behind sporting events and as yet there is no effective management of it. Legislation such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is already in existence but it needs to be backed by culturally powerful countries like Brazil, countries which have influence in the UN and wield enough political power to enforce universal standards. The necessity for a strategy within sporting organisations such as FIFA can only be addressed by our world leaders. The media is capable of raising awareness but ultimately even bad press still serves their marketing interests.

Within international sporting events, a system is needed to safeguard both adults and children if any credibility is to be retained for the power of the UN. It is hypocritical for countries to advocate human rights to the media when they are clearly not being upheld. Social problems can be linked to major sporting events, and they can also already be present. Regardless, the attention these events draw can be used to the advantage of child protection and FIFA can seize the opportunity to add a moral basis to their reputation.




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