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Child trafficking in sport: a case study on evaluating prevention procedures


Incidents of human trafficking and the trafficking of children in particular damage reputations.  Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked for sport every year, despite widespread condemnation. Smuggled across borders, they are sold as commodities by fraudsters masquerading as agents, some claiming affiliation to high-profile, sports organisations. Many of the children “recruited” never reach the organisations allegedly seeking their talents: most are abandoned in their own continent; others are left abroad in cheap hotels without passports or money.

To help eradicate child trafficking in sport, GoodCorporation and Mission 89 launched a framework in July 2020 which enables sports organisations to take proactive steps to mitigate child trafficking in their sport.

The framework draws on best-practice models from organisations such as UNICEF, FIFA and StreetFootballWorld. It can be used as a self-assessment tool or as the basis of an external review by GoodCorporation and Mission 89.

Leading sports organisations were invited to comment on the framework and participate in our pilot assessments. As part of their on-going child-protection and safeguarding work, the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) participated in the pilot and undertook a review.

As Thailand is currently bidding to host the Youth Olympics Games 2026, IFMA was keen to use this review to raise awareness about safeguarding and trafficking risks related to sport generally in Thailand. It was hoped that the review findings would inform the national debate about how to improve child safeguarding and anti-trafficking controls.

External review of procedures to safeguard children from trafficking in sport

As part of its on-going commitment to safeguarding and child protection, IFMA wanted an external review of its child protection and safeguarding procedures. The purpose was to help IFMA understand how well systems worked on the ground. In addition analysis was provided as to how effectively trafficking would be in practice.

In 2013/14, IFMA put in place a strong child safeguarding policy. This was updated in 2019 and approved by IFMA’s Executive Board. The policy is supported by IFMA’s Code of Ethics, Conduct Policy, Gender Equality Policy and the Constitution. All of these policies touch on aspects of good governance and management.

Using the GoodCorporation/Mission 89 Framework on Safeguarding Children from Trafficking in Sport, the assessment took place over a two-week period. It involved a three-stage process, following GoodCorporation’s established assessment methodology. This covered planning and scoping, assessment and finally analysis and reporting. During this period, IFMA’s child safeguarding policies were evaluated and assessed for effectiveness and adequacy. This involved document reviews, desktop research and stakeholder interviews.

A total of 34 documents were reviewed to cover each of the 49 framework points, including the Code of Ethics, Conduct policy, Safeguarding and Whistleblowing policies. Desktop research was carried out to ensure a detailed understanding of the sport. This also enable the team to identify any known challenges or risks associated with the protection and trafficking of children.

The Interview process

Interviews were carried out with representatives from all stakeholder groups, including a cross-section of employees and volunteers from IFMA and national associations, NGO representatives, and one government representative. Twenty percent of the interviewees were identified by the assessment team to ensure an independent perspective.

Due to the pandemic, all interviews, which were approximately 60-minutes long, were conducted remotely using video conference platforms. The interviews followed the framework points and covered the following areas: -

  • awareness of policies and governance to safeguard children and prevent child trafficking;
  • communication and awareness raising amongst all stakeholders of the risk of child trafficking and other safeguarding risks;
  • the culture of safeguarding within the organisation;
  • how children are protected when participating in sport;
  • vetting and recruiting procedures;
  • providing a safe environment;
  • protecting young women, and
  • raising concerns and monitoring.

Review and analysis

Once the document reviews and interviews had been conducted, the assessment team used their findings to consider whether there was a policy or system in place in relation to each element of the framework. Records and interviews were also examined to see whether the system was working in practice. All findings were analysed in detail and a comprehensive report drafted.

All GoodCorporation assessment reports highlight areas of strength and best practice but also identify areas where improvement is recommended. A detailed plan of recommended actions is also provided with priority levels given for each recommendation.

Commenting on the assessment Stefan Fox, Secretary General of IFMA said: “The trafficking of children and talented young athletes in the name sport is an abomination. At IFMA we take our child protection and safeguarding responsibilities very seriously, so welcomed the opportunity to participate in this pilot assessment of the Framework on Safeguarding Children from Trafficking in Sport. Obtaining an external perspective of our safeguarding systems and processes was extremely valuable and we are committed to ensuring that all recommendations for best practice are embedded in our sport throughout all national associations worldwide.”

Obtaining an external perspective of our safeguarding systems and processes was extremely valuable and we are committed to ensuring that all recommendations for best practice are embedded in our sport throughout all national associations worldwide.

Stefan Fox

Secretary general of IFMA

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