Pretoria – Children from communities across South Africa were given the opportunity to enjoy the past two months’ footballing action at safe and secure venues.
The biennial African Cup of Nations is a highlight on football fans’ calendars. South Africa hosted the prestigious tournament during January and February this year. Football enthusiasts were treated to play offs between sixteen of the continent’s greatest footballing nations.
International tournaments ring in a festive time for host countries, but they unfortunately pose serious risks to children – be it physical abuse, human trafficking or being separated from their parents during the frenzy surrounding big matches.
Following the success of “child friendly spaces” created for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa, more than 65 similar projects were launched before the African Cup of Nations 2013. Intended to supplement existing Government response structures, these spaces offered parents a safe and secure venue where they could leave their children to be supervised for the duration of matches as they were being played.
More than 65 child friendly spaces were spread across five of the country’s nine provinces. Facilitated by a number of non-governmental organisations, children were hosted in community halls, public spaces and also cordoned off areas in parks while matches were underway. Trained community workers supervised the little fans at all times, a basic meal was provided and screening facilities allowed children to experience every game. As was the case during the FIFA World Cup, UNICEF played a leading role in the initiative.
Community workers were trained in teaching children about personal safety and who to contact should they ever feel endangered or at risk of exploitation.
“We taught them not to walk alone through isolated areas; not to talk to or take anything from strangers. After every match we made sure the children got home safely,” says Thola Kele, a facilitator on the project.
Fourteen-year-old Mncedisi Tsotetsi says facilitators opened her eyes to some of the dangers around big sporting events and also in society at large.
“They taught us good things about our safety like when school finishes we must go straight home and not talk to strangers because there are some people who will kidnap you for child trafficking.”
Celina Ndlovo is a coordinator at Thlokomelo community project in Soweto which hosted one of the child friendly spaces during the African Cup of Nations. She says the presence of the child friendly spaces fulfilled a much needed role in the community for the duration of the football tournament.
“Most of the children watching the matches are orphaned or vulnerable children. We are thankful towards UNICEF and their partners for screening the matches. Because of the child friendly spaces we knew the children wouldn’t be on the streets, but supervised and taught about safety and child trafficking. We had no incidents in our area during the tournament because the children’s safety was ensured during the matches.”