Brazil 2014: Gary Lineker joins fight against sex trafficking

Gary Lineker is one of many sporting legends lending his support to a new campaign aimed at protecting street children from sexual exploitation during the World Cup.

Lineker joins Chelsea defender and Brazil's vice captain David Luiz and others in supporting 'It's a Penalty', designed to raise awareness of sex trafficking in Brazil this summer. 

Large sporting events attract an increase in pimps operating trafficking rings - last year the National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command warned that the influx of visitors to Brazil for the World Cup was likely to result in an expanded child sex market. An estimated 600,000 foreigners are set to travel to Brazil this summer.

"The majority of fans travelling to Brazil for the World Cup finals would be horrified at the thought of causing harm to the nation's children," said Johnny Gwynne, director of the CEOP Command. "However, we know there are significant risks to children before, during and after major sporting events and some people will sexually exploit children for profit."

'It's a penalty' was launched in February in order to raise awareness among fans and tourists who will be travelling to Brazil. The campaign is made up of both secular and Christian organisations including Happy Child International, the A21 Campaign, Europol and the Jubilee Campaign, working in conjunction with the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA).

CEO of Happy Child International, Sarah de Carvalho, told Christian Today how it was borne out of her ongoing desire to protect the children of Brazil:

"'It's a Penalty' is about protecting children first and foremost," she said. "I was motivated to start the campaign because of what we were seeing first hand on the streets of Recife, north east Brazil, but also because of the words of Proverbs 31:8 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute'.

"In 2009 I met Rose. Rose was forced to sell herself for sex on the main street of Recife, a city in poorer north east Brazil, late at night outside a motel with a group of other very young girls dressed up to look older than they were.

"Rose 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 in the favela where they lived. On the streets Rose, like other street children, was vulnerable to the pimps and soon became a victim of the child sex trade.

"She told me 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 in the favela.

"Rose had to keep on 'working' to provide money for her family. She had lost all sense of self-worth. As night fell her pimp expected her to sleep with as many clients as possible to make as much money for him as possible.

"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 HELP US!'

"It was because of Rose that I felt compelled to start the campaign as she represents to me the hundreds of other children in the same predicament."

The Football Association is supporting the campaign and will be sending 5,000 'It's a Penalty' wristbands and leaflets to the UK football fans travelling to Brazil asking them to "say something if they see something". 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The Metropolitan Police will also be sharing informaiton, and British Airways will be showing an awareness video with footballers giving key messages about the campaign on all their flights to Brazil from 15 May.

The campaign's message is clear: compensated sex with a minor (17 and under) is a crime, and will result in prosecution in either Brazil and/or your home country.

"Brazilian children suffer abuse in the commercial sex trade and may have their appearance manipulated to look older," said Johnny Gwynne. "Do not make the mistake of thinking that because they approach you this must mean they are consenting and that you are not responsible. They are children, and they are being threatened and intimidated by unscrupulous people to make money.

"The law will not care whether you knew the person you had sex with was underage. You risk arrest and imprisonment in Brazil or on your return to the UK. If you are in any doubt – don't do it."

 All football supporters, tourists and Brazilian residents are being asked to be vigilant and to report anything suspicious:

"This is a really important 
campaign. I'm proud to be 
supporting 'It's a Penalty'. 
It's crucial that football 
supporters stand with us 
against the sexual exploitation of children," said Frank Lampard, England player and former England captain.

To find out more visit the 'It's a Penalty' website