As the most-watched sports event worldwide, the FIFA World Cup 2010 is expected to attract more than a billion television viewers around the world before it is through. Across the host country, South Africa, fan parks known as FIFA “Fan Fests” have set up huge TV screens and stages for live entertainment. An estimated half a million visitors and hundreds of thousands of local South Africans are watching matches in these public spaces.
Aside from live TV matches and entertainment, a number of the “Fan Fests” also feature “child-friendly spaces”—places where children can play and get help if they are ever separated from their families, exposed to violence or abused.
At a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Soweto, South Africa, children’s identification wristbands are held up against those of their guardians.
Rona Steffens, a social worker managing one of UNICEF’s child-friendly spaces in Soweto, explained that many services are available to children amidst the football frenzy.
“At each entrance, we have a banding station, where parents and children voluntarily get a band wrapped around their wrists,” she said. “In the occasions when they get separated, the children can come to our child-friendly space in the park, and the staff will call the parent using the telephone number printed on the child’s band.”
Once the parent arrives, she added, trained staff at the child-friendly spaces checks the number on the child’s wristband against the one printed on the parent’s band. Parents with identical wristband numbers are then re-united with their children.
Steffens said that about 600 children have been registered and tagged with the bands in the Soweto fan park. One recent day, she recalled, four children were separated from their parents—but thanks to the tagging system, each was quickly reunited with his or her parents.
Red Card campaign
Around 20 social workers and trained volunteers work in the park, staffing the banding station, monitoring the situation and referring children in need to the child-friendly space. They also provide support to children if they are separated or exposed to more serious problems—including violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Even before the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 2010 kicked off, UNICEF began working with authorities and local partners in South Africa to ensure that children are well protected from these threats during the football festivities and beyond.
The UNICEF-supported “Red Card” campaign, first launched by the International Labour Organization in 2002, was re-launched with a focus on child exploitation, child sex tourism and trafficking. Using the symbol of the red cards that are given to football players who severely violate the rules of the game, the media campaign sends a message to the public that child abuse and exploitation have no place in South Africa.
Zero tolerance for exploitation
In collaboration with the South African Department of Education and community development partners, UNICEF is organizing 21 sports festivals for children during the FIFA World Cup 2010. The program seeks to empower boys and girls through sport, helping them adopt healthy lifestyles, reduce risky and harmful behavior, and stay alert to exploitation and other possible threats.
In addition, UNICEF has trained 1,000 social and child-care workers from non-governmental organizations and government sectors in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. It is also encouraging representatives of the country’s tourism and hospitality industries to sign the International Code against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, a set of criteria that tourism bodies agree to uphold in order to protect children.
UNICEF Representative in South Africa Aida Girma says the signing is historic.
“This is the first time that the international code is being introduced to South Africa, making the country only the second in the whole African continent to introduce such a code,” said Girma. “Effective child protection is only possible when all sectors of society are mobilized. Together, we must demonstrate zero tolerance of child exploitation and make South Africa a tourist destination that is safe for children.”