How sport can make a difference – by Sarah de Carvalho MBE

The Olympic Torch arrived in Brasilia recently and a Syrian child refugee, Daqqah Hannan, 12, and a couple of young athletes were among the first ten runners – demonstrating Rio 2016's commitment to shine a light on the accomplishments and plight of children in global society. 

So it’s a perfect time for us to launch the ‘It’s A Penalty’ campaign to highlight the dangers of commercial child exploitation to visitors to the Olympic and Paralympics in Rio later this year, and spreading the important message that such exploitation is unacceptable and that its the rights of every child to be protected from all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse. 

Having worked with street children in Brazil for 25 years, I can say from personal experience that this campaign has particular relevance ahead of the Games.

In life there are moments that can change the course of what we’re doing, and for me it was meeting a young girl called Rose nearly seven years ago. It was that meeting with Rose that still drives me to do what I’m doing today. 

When I met her it was late at night and she was outside a motel, in north-east Brazil, with a group of other very young girls dressed up to look older than they were.  

She told me that she was 11 years old when her mother sent her to the streets to beg for money because there was no food at home.  On the streets Rose, like other street children, was vulnerable to unscrupulous people who use these children to make money. 

She explained that her clients came from Europe, America and Africa as well as from Brazil.  By the age of 16 she had given birth to two babies who she had given to her mother to look after.

Rose had to keep on ‘working’ to provide money for her family.  She had lost all sense of self-worth. She was a silent voice in a world that couldn’t hear her cry for help.  She had no hope, no future and knew no other way of earning a living.  I remember to this day vividly when she looked me in the eye and said "Please do something to help us!"

Rose represents TO ME hundreds and thousands of other children in the same predicament around the world.  It’s wrong and together we can do something about...

Our campaign is part of the Rio 2016 Sustainability Program and their legacy and dialogue with society after the games. 

We received a message from Prime Minister David Cameron, who said: “Protecting children who are at risk from sexual exploitation and abuse should be a priority for every country, not just for those that hold major events which attract foreign tourists. I am delighted that the campaign will now be prevalent for the forthcoming Olympics in Rio.

We’ve been lucky enough to have some of the biggest names in sport lend their voice to the campaign and we’re so proud to have the support of the likes of Usain Bolt, Gary Lineker, Denise Lewis, David Luiz, Francois Pienaar, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sir Chris Hoy, not to mention Jennifer Stoute, Ryan Raghoo and Dalton Grant who joined us for our launch. 

It really illustrates how sport can be such a powerful vehicle for change.

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