Mozambique has launched a campaign called "Open Your Eyes" to combat child trafficking and unsafe child migration into neighbouring South Africa as footballers and fans start arriving there ahead of the Soccer World Cup kick-off on 11 June.
"This is a unique opportunity for me and the Mozambican sports community," Manuel 'Tico-Tico' Bucuane, former captain of Mozambique's soccer team, who also holds the record for scoring the highest number of international goals for his country, told local media in the Mozambican capital, Maputo.
Tico-Tico, the country's most capped player and a local hero, is the public face of the drive to raise awareness of cross-border trafficking, which campaign organisers Save the Children Alliance (SC), an international child rights NGO, in cooperation with local child rights groups and government partners, think might increase during the month-long World Cup.
"As sports people, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to protect our children by reminding them of the dangers of unsafe migration," he said.
The campaign organizers acknowledged the economic, cultural and social benefits to the region of hosting this major event, but pointed out that the influx of large numbers of people with money to spend could create the right conditions for a potential increase in child labour and sexual exploitation.
The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) expects some 373,000 tourists to descend on South Africa. "The World Cup is a fantastic opportunity for South Africa and the region ... but it carries certain risks as well, that we want as much as possible to avoid," said Chris McIvor, the Advocacy and Programmes Director at SC in Mozambique.
To those leaving
"The factors that have always prompted children to leave Mozambique for South Africa are exaggerated during this period, with increased expectations of employment, casual labour and economic opportunities arising from the presence of thousands of football fans in that country," McIvor noted.
Part of the campaign is designed to remind Mozambican families and children that travelling without proper documents and a safe, genuine guardian could lead to terrible consequences.
"We know from our research that Mozambican girls are sometimes trafficked into the sex industry in South Africa, and are worried that the influx of large numbers of foreign visitors could increase this problem," McIvor told IRIN.
While there is no hard evidence to suggest the World Cup would boost the number of children trafficked or smuggled to South Africa, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that approximately one thousand children and women are trafficked from Mozambique to South Africa every year for the purpose of exploitative labour and commercial sex work.
Many more make the trip voluntarily; according to SC figures, 80,000 Mozambicans are repatriated from South Africa every year, of which 15 to 20 percent are children.
|Difficulties include sexual harassment and rape of girls, poor remuneration, labour exploitation, incarceration with adults in jails|
"We know they [children] face many hardships. These difficulties include sexual harassment and rape of girls, poor remuneration, labour exploitation - no payment of salaries by employers, who report them to the police when they have to be paid - incarceration with adults in jails in South Africa," McIvor said.
To those visiting
It is anticipated that many football fans visiting South Africa will make their way to Mozambique, where hotels have already received many foreign reservations.
"Part of our campaign is to remind visitors to the country that they are extremely welcome, but that they should behave respectfully and not in a way that exploits or manipulates children, especially girls," McIvor said.
Postcards will be handed to tourists at airports and other points of entry, reminding them to behave responsibly and in conformity with international child protection standards.
Tico-Tico will broadcast messages on local TV and radio stations, warning families of the dangers of unsafe migration and how best to protect children.
The Open Your Eyes campaign will organise community theatre events to sensitize people, and a film about the lives of three migrant children from Mozambique will be screened on national television, accompanied by debates on key issues.
"Training of border guards and police in Mozambique on trafficking and migration issues and appropriate child protection standards," would also be part of the campaign, McIvor said. "Our programme will continue long after the World Cup has finished."
The main factors pushing children in the region to South Africa were perceived employment opportunities, access to schooling, and abuse or exploitation at home. "These issues need to be addressed in sending countries if the scale of unsafe migration is to substantially diminish," McIvor commented.
Children interviewed in various SC studies said they were not aware of what they would face once they crossed the border with South Africa. McIvor noted that "More information would have either convinced them not to travel, or at least allowed them to be better prepared."