London hosted a wonderful Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2012, the same year that Poland and Ukraine hosted the Euro 2012 football championship. For most people, these events are all about the sport, the spectacle and the opportunity to travel and enjoy the atmosphere. However, for criminals these events bring opportunities which often involve the exploitation of children and young people.
There is significant evidence that the trafficking of children and young people increases with major sporting events. For example the Greek Ministry of Public Safety identified that incidents of trafficking increased by 94% during 2004[i], the year it hosted the Games. Some of London’s Olympic boroughs already identified, as early as 2009, an increase in trafficking into the area.[ii] As well as cases of women and children being trafficked for sexual exploitation, police are also noticing an increase in children trafficked for the purposes of petty crime, such as pickpocketing.
Looking behind the headlines, we see an alarming link between trafficking and children’s institutions. United Nations (IOM)[iii] research from Moldova tells us that girls who grow up in institutions are ten times more likely to be a victim of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. At Lumos we know that growing up in an impersonal institutional environment does not prepare children for the outside world and often leaves them economically disadvantaged, too trusting of strangers and incredibly vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation – including trafficking. This extra vulnerability to trafficking is yet another example of how growing up in an institution harms the life-chances of children and it is just one of the many reasons Lumos is working to end the systematic institutionalisation of children across Europe.
A further link exists between sport, trafficking and institutions: some countries hosting major sporting events feel the need to hide their social problems and present a good public face to the world. In some cases authorities round up street children in the host city and place them in institutions or move them to other towns away from the media spotlight. A recent example of this, widely reported in the press, occurred in advance of the FIFA World Cup in Durban in 2010.[iv]
For many children trafficked abroad, being rescued by the authorities does not end their suffering. Some children, already victims of trafficking, become victims a second time when they are automatically placed in institutions on their return to their countries of origin – re-traumatising them and increasing their vulnerability to being trafficked again. Authorities in destination and origin countries alike should do more to assess the various alternatives to institutionalisation which may be open to the child, such as reintegration with the family or extended family, foster care or community-based care. Society’s responsibility for vulnerable children should not end once they have crossed a border. We should care what happens to them next and work together to protect them and improve their lives.
There is an urgent need to understand this issue better and to take all actions possible to prevent the children who are victims of trafficking from being placed into large institutions that cannot meet their needs. Lumos is working with authorities in the UK to raise awareness of the nature of this problem so that social workers, police and local authorities assess the link to institutional care of each trafficked child and are able to respond in the best interests of the child when organising their return to their country of origin. We are also establishing links with NGOs, child protection authorities and national governments across Europe so that information about the scale of this problem can be gathered and that intelligence and good practice can be shared.
Finally, if you are based in the UK and you suspect that a child may have been trafficked, you should contact the Child Trafficking Advice and Information Line (CTAIL). This is a specialist service providing information and advice to any professionals working with children or young people who may have been trafficked into the UK. (Telephone 0800 107 7057 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you think that a child is in immediate danger please contact the police by telephoning 999. For services in other countries, please contact your local police authorities or social services.
For further information about our work to break the harmful link between the institutionalisation of children and trafficking please contact Nolan Quigley on Nolan.Quigley@lumos.org.uk
Useful Links: (external web sites)
• ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes)
[i] Greek Ministry of Public Safety 2005 (The Times, Influx of workers and prostitutes for Olympics raises sexual health fears, 17 March 2008)
[ii] The Metropolitan Police has already noted a small increase in the number of trafficked women working in the five Olympic host boroughs of London. (Guardian article, 19/07/2009) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/19/sex-trafficking-2012-olympics-london
[iii] International Organization for Migration “Protecting Vulnerable Children in Moldova” http://www.iom.md/materials/brochures/4_protecting_vuln_children.pdf
[iv] Sunday Times of South Africa, 14 February 2010 “Metro police deny charges of street children abuse”
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