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At-risk teens have a right to sport and play, say MU legend

Manchester United legend Bryan Robson and Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels
© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram
Manchester United legend Bryan Robson and Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels at a youth centre in Malaysia

Safe spaces for sport, recreation and play key to providing vulnerable inner-city teens with an alternative to life on the streets, and risk-taking behaviour

by Indra Kumari Nadchatram

KUALA LUMPUR, 11 April 2011 – Manchester United legend Bryan Robson stressed the importance of safe spaces to play for vulnerable and at-risk inner city adolescents during his recent visit to the KL Krash Pad, a teen and youth centre located in Chow Kit.

“Sport can play an important role in helping marginalised and vulnerable adolescents cope with and overcome the challenges in their lives,” said Mr. Robson. “Through sport, recreation and play, these adolescents can learn to exercise judgment and think critically while finding solutions to their problems.”

The iconic former Manchester United captain fondly known as Captain Marvel to his fans stressed the need to provide vulnerable teens with safe spaces to play as these avenues provide them with an alternative to life on the streets, violence, exploitation and risk taking behaviour that can lead to HIV infection.

Mr Robson together with Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels and former club mate Andy Cole were on a two day visit to Malaysia for the Manchester United Foundation and UNICEF Legends Charity Dinner in Association with Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) to raise funds in support of the KL Krash Pad programs for vulnerable and at-risk adolescents and young people. Proceeds from the charity auction will be used to create a safe space through sport for the Centre’s at-risk teens as well as an income generation initiative for young people and a program to develop adolescents as strong peer leaders.

Lack of safe spaces

John Sheils and Bryan Robson
© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Nadchatram

Sport for 19-year old Hafiz* was critical in helping him kick-off his drug addiction which he picked up while living on the streets for three years. Rescued by KL Krash Pad outreach workers in late 2010, Hafiz was brought to the Centre and provided with counselling and the opportunity to rebuild his life, and reclaim his future.

“The KL Krash Pad staff helped get me into a sport program, organising transportation for me to go for training in Shah Alam,” whispered Hafiz softly. “It was difficult at first, but playing sports helped me focus on something besides drugs. The sport trainings are helping me work out my frustrations, helping me respect my body. I am off drugs for three months now and I am determined to make it last ... for myself and the staff of the Pad who believe in me.”

Like Hafiz, Linda* too is an avid champion of sport. A regular user of the KL Krash Pad, the bubbly 17-year old teen who lives in Chow Kit continuously seeks out opportunities to train and compete in futsal. “I love playing futsal because it challenges the stereotype that girls are weaker than boys. I learn discipline, team work and most importantly to feel confident about being a girl.”

Both however lament at the lack of safe spaces in Chow Kit for teens and young people to play sport. “There is really no where in Chow Kit where we can play sport like futsal with our friends. It’s not safe to play on the streets. Many of us cannot afford to rent futsal courts to train and play.”

Falling through the net

Marginalised and vulnerable adolescents – who are at greatest risk and have the greatest needs – often ‘fall through the net’ and experience a disconnection from social and economic support, health services and legal protection. More often than not, these adolescents are denied their rights to basic healthcare, nutrition, adequate shelter, education, protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and diseases, and a safe space to play as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“Invisible and ‘hidden’ adolescents, in particular, are being neglected, such as those engaged in illegal behaviour like drug use and sex work or those without legal status or birth registration,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative Victor Karunan. “As inner-city adolescents, accessing safe spaces to connect with peers, to learn, play and adopt positive lifestyles become almost impossible when they live on streets shadowed with crime, violence, drug abuse and HIV”.

According to Malaysia’s 2010 report to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS (UNGASS), some 2,000 adolescents in Malaysia have tested HIV-positive since the first case in 1986, while 2010 statistics revealed that 1 in 4 new HIV cases in that year were between the ages of 13 and 29 years old. Amongst the vulnerabilities and situations that expose urban teens and youth to HIV infection include sexual and physical violence, incest, sex work, human trafficking as well as underage and unprotected sex.

Healing scars with sport

National child protection systems, protective social practices, child and youth-friendly services and adolescents’ own empowerment coupled with good oversight and monitoring are among the critical elements of a protective environment that can help these adolescents to overcome the risk of violence, substance abuse, exploitation and diseases such HIV and AIDS.

“It is never too late to help marginalised and vulnerable adolescents escape their difficult and challenging childhood – the time is now!” added Mr. Karunan. “Sport is both an excellent entry point and a powerful tool to mobilise adolescents for positive behaviour change”.

“Through sport, vulnerable inner-city teens such as those who visit the KL Krash Pad get o express their feelings, build their self-esteem and confidence and develop trust in adults”, Mr. Shiels shared. “For victimised teens this opportunity becomes even more valuable as sport can heal emotional scars.”

* Names of young people have been changed to protect their identities.





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