Sale and sexual exploitation of children in the context of sports

During the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019, the Special Rapporteur Maud de Boer-Buquicchio presented her thematic report on the sale and sexual exploitation of children in the context of sports. Her statement, a summary of her interactive dialogue with Member States, and a summary of the panel discussion organized on this subject are available through the relevant links.

It is widely accepted that sports are not immune to such abhorrent crimes as the sale and sexual exploitation of children. There have been cases of large-scale sexual abuse of children within gymnastics, football and other sports. Moreover, there are several practices that can amount to the sale and trafficking of children specifically in the context of transfers.

The international legal framework sets clear obligations for States and responsibilities for sport organizations to deal with these human rights violations. The challenge, however, lies with the effective implementation of these obligations and responsibilities to ensure that the best interests of the child serve as a fundamental principle throughout the practice of sports.

In 2014, the predecessor of the Special Rapporteur dealt with major sports events and the risk they may present for the rights of the child. The current Special Rapporteur briefly already looked into this subject through her thematic report on the sale of children for the purpose of forced labour, where she highlighted the economic exploitation of child athletes.

The sale of children in the context of sports can be analysed within the international legal framework on child labour and its worst forms. The ILO defines child labour “as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”. An important aspect, in particular in relation to sports, is that child labour may seriously affect children’s education.

Furthermore, the best interests of the child should serve as a fundamental principle throughout the practice of sports and should guide any sports programme, in particular at the elite level.

Some key recommendations from the report

  • In line with the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, invoke the liability of legal persons, in this case sports organizations, and ensure commensurate sanctions against actors who have directly participated in or facilitated the sale and sexual exploitation of children;
  • In line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ensure the prevention, investigation, punishment and redress of abuses committed by business enterprises, in this case sports institutions, through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication;
  • Enact or implement legislation making it mandatory for sports institutions to undertake background checks of any individual working with children;
  • Guarantee that human rights are a core component of bidding for the organization of major sporting events and that impact assessments are undertaken;
  • As part of prevention efforts, ensure that States hosting major sporting events effectively engage with children and provide space for their meaningful participation;
  • Consider revising codes of conduct and ethics to ensure a systematic approach to child rights violations and the use of standard terminology as well as use and refer to the Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse as a seminal document providing clear standard terminology;
  • Set up or implement independent reporting mechanisms for cases of sale and sexual exploitation that provide child-friendly support to children and ensure that theses reporting mechanisms are developed and work in tandem with existing national child protection frameworks, as well as explicitly enshrine the reporting obligations of all individuals falling under the authority of sports institutions;
  • Provide comprehensive, systematic training to all individuals falling under the authority of sports institutions on child rights, internal codes of conduct or ethics and policy documents;
  • Coupled with comprehensive training of all individuals falling under the authority of sports institutions, enforce systematic background checks of anyone working with children;
  • Engage constructively with existing multi-stakeholder platforms such as the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and with international child protection guidelines or safeguards.

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Contact us

Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio
Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations at Geneva
814 ave de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Fax: (+41 22) 917 90 06

Email: srsaleofchildren@ohchr.org