The key issues
Sport has a powerful effect on children’s well being and can promote greater physical health, emotional and mental balance, and help children develop important skills related to participation, team building and collaboration. However, at the same time, sport – both the everyday practice of it and the larger scale organisation of “mega” sporting events (MSEs)– can expose children to grievous harm and violence.
The interconnectedness of sport and sale and sexual exploitation is a relatively unexplored issue that deeply affects children and adolescents’ life experiences. The intersection between sport and sale and sexual exploitation of children presents in different ways. At a more extreme end of the intersection is the phenomenon of sale of athletes especially in major sports such as football. Sale and sexual exploitation can also take place at the margins of large or “mega” sporting events.
For instance, recent research has found that many children coming from poor families in lowincome countries are trafficked in Europe in hope of being trained as professional footballers.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children also noted in 2016 that forced labour of children is strongly linked to sport since “[t]he sale of child athletes for competitive training and ultimately profit amounts to a form of sale of children for the purpose of forced labour.
It generally features an imbalance of power, in which financial power is used to draw children and their families who are in economic hardship into unfair practices over which they have no control.” Moreover, child athletes can easily fall victim to human trafficking – sometimes for the purposes of economic or sexual exploitation.
Sporting events also provide an environment where there may be a spike in sex work involving young people.
However, not enough research is available on the phenomenon, and laws are not fully equipped to regulate this widespread lucrative phenomenon.