Hundreds of thousands of people gather throughout the day on the world-famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to enjoy ‘the beautiful game’. But this can also be a risky place for children and adolescents, especially those who are already vulnerable. They may face dangers ranging from being separated from their parents in the crowd, to being at risk of sexual exploitation or child labour.
But people are pulling together to help ensure that children are protected and their rights are respected.
“The crowds really grow in numbers towards the start of each game and a child can easily be separated from their parents in just a few seconds,” says Jandira, a social mobilizer with the Secretariat of Social Development in Rio de Janeiro.
“That’s why we are out every day on the beach, filling out these identification bracelets for children with their name, age, address and their parents name and phone number. If they do get lost or separated, they can be quickly identified and we can call their parents and reunite them as soon as possible.”
“We have zero tolerance for the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents,” says Charles, a receptionist at the Windsor-Excelsior Hotel on Copacabana, pointing to a plaque on the wall which states their policy. “We keep our eyes out for any kind of suspicious behaviour and have various ways to check that all minors are safely accompanied by the people they really should be with. Our staff are concerned about the safety of children and we have a responsibility to protect all the children here.”
A large white balloon floats high above Copacabana’s Children’s Care Centre, which has been set up for the FIFA World Cup with the support of UNICEF and its partners. The space is one of the initiatives implemented in the 12 host cities as part a Brazilian national ‘Convergence Agenda’ initiative, which brings together the Brazilian government, civil society and international organizations like UNICEF to protect children during mega-events in Brazil.
Through this programme, local committees in each of the host cities define and implement actions to protect children, including protocols for police teams, capacity-building workshops for child protection professionals and the creation of specific places like the Care Centre in Rio to assist child victims of violence.
“We have staff on duty every day to help with lost children and to follow-up with the proper authorities on any reported child rights violations,” says Paula Braga of the Municipal Secretary of Social Development. “Our staff also walk through the crowds in and around Copacabana giving out World Cup game schedules that also have clear directions printed on them about how to quickly and anonymously report any child protection issues by phone or by the #ProtejaBrasil app.”
The #ProtejaBrasil app takes advantage of the latest technology in people’s hands to immediately report any suspected violations of children’s rights.
“So far the app has been downloaded over 30,000 times,” says Casimira Benge, Chief of the Child Protection Programme of UNICEF in Brazil. “More than 3,800 calls have been made through the app by ordinary people, which is good because it shows that everyone is involved in protecting children, though the number of calls show that too many violations occur.”
Tourist police officers Kelly and Henrique are both parents of young children and they are keeping their eyes out for children and adolescents along Copacabana. “The thought of children or adolescents being exploited or abused repulses me,” says Henrique, pulling a booklet out from his pocket titled ‘Preventing Sexual Violence: Everyone’s Duty’. “Civil and military police and the national guard have been oriented on this issue and I always carry my copy of the training handbook with me.”
Protecting children and adolescents is a shared responsibility, and in Brazil, it’s something that everyone is taking very seriously. The “It’s in your hands to protect our children” campaign invites people to use the #ProtejaBrasil app or call ‘100’ on their phone to report incidents of any kind of violence against children and adolescents. Both services are free of charge and they also open a communication channel between citizens and the government about child protection. The “It’s in your hands to protect our children” campaign is part of UNICEF´s global #ENDViolence initiative and is a contribution to Brazil’s national ‘Convergence Agenda’ initiative to protect children during mega-events in Brazil.