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SOUTH AFRICA: World Cup poses risks for out-of-school kids

Johannesburg, 8 June 2010 (IRIN) - As South African children look forward to a mid-year school holiday that will last longer than the usual winter break because of the FIFA World Cup, parents and caregivers are faced with the dilemma of how to keep them safe during the five weeks of festivities.

"The length of the holiday is about the length of the December school holiday, but more parents are likely to be working at this time," said Janet Prest Talbot of the Children's Rights Centre, an NGO based in the port city of Durban. Children left to their own devices were at greater risk of abuse and sexual experimentation, she said.

President Jacob Zuma has warned parents about an expected rise in child trafficking during the World Cup. "Children wandering alone in shopping malls and football stadiums will be vulnerable to people with evil intentions," he said at the launch of a new Children's Act, which came into effect in April and makes the trafficking of minors a crime.

Government is gearing up to counter the potential threat with anti-human trafficking task teams in the host cities, but Prest Talbot described the risk of trafficking as "the tip of the iceberg". "The biggest risk [of child abuse] is often on your doorstep – from neighbours or family members," she told IRIN/PlusNews.

Many South African children whose parents are unemployed or who have been orphaned rely on school feeding programmes for their main meal of the day, but the schemes will be suspended during the holiday.

''We are very worried, but not about trafficking or the safety of children at stadiums; we're worried about what's happening to children in their homes''
Joan van Niekerk, national coordinator of Childline South Africa, said that the money spent on printing glossy pamphlets about the dangers of human trafficking could have been better spent on ensuring children did not go hungry while schools were closed. "We are very worried, but not about trafficking or the safety of children at stadiums," she said.

"We’re worried about what’s happening to children in their homes. If children are hungry, they’re going to go out there looking for food."

Making a holiday plan

The Children's Rights Centre is providing training and information to parents and communities about how to plan activities that will keep children occupied and off the streets during the holiday.

A number of other NGOs are hosting holiday camps for children in low-income areas that will include HIV/AIDS education, sports and other activities.

Grassroot Soccer, an international initiative that trains football players, coaches and volunteers to educate young people about HIV, will be running 47 "Skillz Holiday" camps around the country, each of which will cater to 100 children.

"I think everybody recognizes [that the holiday puts] an extra burden on caregivers and parents," said Matt Streng, programmes director of Grassroot Soccer in South Africa. "We're trying to reduce that burden to allow young people to engage in constructive activities."

But the number of children who will be able to attend such camps is a small fraction of those who will be out of school, and Grace Matlhape, CEO of the national HIV/AIDS youth programme, loveLife, worries that many will gravitate towards the fan parks and public viewing areas, where alcohol will be available.

"Any school holiday is a period of greater vulnerability for young people, but with the World Cup being there, there are some other elements," she said.

While the alcohol-fuelled atmosphere at the fan parks could increase the likelihood of young people engaging in risky behaviour, Matlhape predicted that many others would "tolerate all kinds of risk" as a result of feeling marginalized from the festivities.

LoveLife is trying to respond to both possibilities by encouraging young people to watch the games on the big-screen TVs that will be installed at their youth centres around the country. "It will allow them to participate, and we're using that as a platform for our HIV/AIDS programme," Matlhape said.

Resources misdirected

Most of the teenagers IRIN/PlusNews spoke to at a loveLife centre in Orange Farm, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, said they would avoid the local fan park and watch games at home with friends and family.

"Fan parks are a little bit dangerous," said Miranda, 18.

A couple of the teenagers confessed they would use the World Cup as an excuse to slip out of the house and go to parties. They added that being under-age was no barrier to buying alcohol. "They won't ask how old you are," said Themba, 17.

According to van Niekirk of Childline, some provinces are allowing liquor outlets to remain open around the clock during the World Cup. "I really believe we have put resources into the wrong place," she told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We need less police protecting soccer players and more police protecting communities and children in communities."

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Theme (s): Children, Food Security, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, Urban Risk,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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