Big sports events, like the Olympic Games that have just ended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, attract a lot of attention. Many people followed the Games in Rio closely, at times even during the middle of the night, to see British athletes competing and doing us proud.
For some of Rio’s poorest children, however, the Olympic Games had another, tragic side to them.
According to figures cited by the Brazilian government, over 500,000 foreign tourists travelled to Brazil to attend to the Games in Rio. Whilst most of these visitors were undoubtedly there to enjoy the Games and the many tourist attractions that Rio has to offer, sadly others used the opportunity to prey on the most vulnerable in these poverty stricken areas: children.
The sexual abuse of children and the sale of children for sexual exploitation are one of the ugliest faces of poverty. Where families and children have no opportunities to make a decent living, children are an easy target for foreign abusers who lure in children with money, shoes and other basic amenities that the children are unable to afford. Sadly, in our work we often see British men exploiting this opportunity when they travel abroad, in particular to countries with significant levels of poverty, such as Brazil. Regulations are seen to be weak and foreign men feel a sense of power given their background and financial means.
Whilst the Governments of these countries should do more to combat sex tourism and create opportunities for the poor to escape poverty, demand is the most significant factor for children being exploited. More must therefore be done to prevent potential sex offenders from travelling abroad. In bringing civil claims against child abusers who travel abroad to target vulnerable children, too often we see that measures should have been taken in the UK to prevent these offenders travelling abroad. The onus is on the authorities, including the police, in some cases the employers and finally on every one of us to ensure that, when suspicions are raised about an individual’s behaviour with children, this is investigated in the most comprehensive way. In particular, in advance of big sports events such as the Olympics in Rio, it is imperative that potential offenders are monitored and that British police authorities work closely together with police in the countries in question to ensure that, where necessary, orders restricting travel are put in place and adhered to and that potential offenders do not slip through the net. The safeguarding of the children must be paramount at all times.
At Leigh Day, we are contacted when the flags raised have been missed. We specialise in getting help for child survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation who have suffered harm at the hand of British abusers. We have represented Kenyan children abused by Simon Harris, a British school teacher, who despite a previous conviction for the possession of indecent images, was allowed to travel abroad to abuse Kenyan children. Through civil claims, children have the opportunity to get compensation that enables them to seek medical treatment to overcome the trauma suffered, access education and build up a life beyond exploitation. Aside from the immediate impact on children’s lives we hope that our work also serves as a deterrent and reminder that more must be done at the outset to prevent abusers from travelling abroad to access these vulnerable children.
In terms of the tragic downside of the recent Olympic games in Rio, one very laudable campaign that we support is the Bola na Rede (or ‘Ball in the Net’) campaign, founded by RENAS and supported by Tearfund. This campaign was initiated prior to the 2014 World Cup, which also took place in Rio, and aims to tackle the sexual exploitation of children by increasing awareness among visitors of these sporting events and children themselves as well as linking up vulnerable children and adolescents with places where they can get help. Increasing awareness empowers the children, and witnesses of concerning behaviour, to report this to the relevant authorities. Thanks to the campaigning efforts, governmental institutions in Brazil have also increased their monitoring and Tearfund reports that the numbers of complaints about attempted abuse have gone up. This indicates that this Tearfund campaign has been a success and we are encouraged by such efforts to tackle the terrible incidents of abuse of children overseas. Similar local initiatives should be supported in the run-up to other big sporting events – without forgetting however that the a major part of the responsibility for the prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation lies with the countries where the abusers are from.