UNICEF Child Friendly Spaces at FIFA Fan Fests
An enduring legacy to protect children during the World Cup and beyond
SOWETO, South Africa, 18 June 2010 - As the most watched sports event, the FIFA World Cup is expected to attract more than one billion television viewers around the world. Across the host country, South Africa, fan parks, also known as FIFA Fan Fests, with huge TV screens and centre stages, are set up for an estimated half a million visitors, plus hundreds of thousands of South African citizens, to watch the games for free.
Aside from live TV and entertainment, a number of the Fan Fests also feature child-friendly spaces, where children can play, watch their favourite football stars in the televised games and get help if they are ever separated from their families or exposed to violence or abuse amidst the football frenzy.
According to Rona Steffens, a Social Worker managing UNICEF’s child-friendly space in at the Soweto Fan Fest, UNICEF has set up a banding station, where parents and children voluntarily get a numbered band wrapped around their wrists.
“On the occasions when they get separated, the children can come to our child-friendly space in the park, and the staff will call the parent using the telephone number printed on the child’s band. Once the parent comes, we will check the number on his or her band against the one printed on the child’s band. The numbers are identical; in that way, we can verify that the parent is indeed the one who came with the child,” Ms. Steffens says.
On the last night the home team played, some 50,000 fans visited the Soweto Fan Fest, and on average, 600 children are registered and tagged with the identifying bands at this site. Last week, sixty children were separated from their parents, but thanks to the tagging system, they were quickly reunited.
Around 20 social workers and trained volunteers work in the park, continued Ms. Steffens, at the banding station and around the park environs, monitoring the situation and referring children in need to the child-friendly space. Inside the space, they give support to children if they are separated, or exposed to more serious problems such as violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking. Adjoining the closed space there is a protected area where children can play sports and enjoy the winter sunshine.
Unaccompanied neighbourhood children on holiday, whose parents may be away at work, come to the Fan Fests and visit the Child Friendly Space for games, a warm meal and to learn about safety and how to take care of themselves while visiting the park.
Zero tolerance to child abuse
The child friendly spaces at the four FIFA Fan Fests are one of several initiatives UNICEF has undertaken to ensure that children are safe and protected whilst enjoying the World Cup.
“Effective child protection is only possible when all sectors of society are mobilised,” said UNICEF Representative, Aida Girma. “The involvement of parents, communities, schools, civil society and the privates and sector is critical. When it comes to the exploitation of children, there can be no innocent bystanders.”
As South Africa gear up for the knockout round of the World Cup football tournament, even more fans are expected at the Fan Fests. UNICEF and its expert partners are ready. “Together, we must demonstrate zero tolerance to child abuse and exploitation and make South Africa safe for children,” Ms. Girma said.
VIDEO: Child-friendly spaces at FIFA World Cup 'Fan Fest'
UNICEF actions to strengthen child protection during 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and beyond