WMC News & Features

Children being trafficked to Russia before World Cup rescued

Putin Worldcup 6 13 18
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds the FIFA World Cup Trophy at a pre-tournament ceremony in Moscow in September. (Wikipedia)

Nigerian authorities have rescued 10 children allegedly being trafficked to Russia in what is believed to be an attempt to use the approaching World Cup as cover for the illegal activity. The young people, who were trying to board a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to Moscow, had football supporter ID cards “to look as though they were fans heading to the World Cup in Russia,” according to a report published by the BBC on Monday.  

The 10 children, along with five other potential victims who were also stopped from boarding flights, are now being held in a shelter run by Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency, NAPTIP. “The agency will not give traffickers any opportunity to use the World Cup to ferry Nigerians out into a life of misery abroad,” said NAPTIP director, Julie Okah-Donli, in a statement.  

In recent weeks, government officials have warned that traffickers would take advantage Russia’s decision to relax visa rules for the World Cup, which will take place in 11 cities across the country from June 14 to July 15. Spectators planning to attend events are not required to obtain a visa, and are instead able to enter the country with only a ticket and a fan pass.  

According to Russian anti-slavery advocates, women and girls have ended up in Russia in recent years after being promised work and substantial wages—only to find themselves in debt bondage they cannot escape. “We discovered that about 30 victims (Nigerian women) were brought to the Confederations Cup in Moscow last year ... we expect to face the same problem during the World Cup this year,” Julia Siluyanova of the anti-slavery organization Alternativa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  

The presumed relationship between sex trafficking and sporting events has come under scrutiny, however. A 2011 report published by the Bangkok-based Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women found that “there is a very wide discrepancy between claims that are made prior to large sporting events and the actual number of trafficking cases found. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.”  

Children are seen as “better victims” than adult women, the report says, and so their stories are sometimes used to sell the sporting event/trafficking myth. And this myth comes at a cost, according to researchers: including promoting xenophobic policy measures and a crackdown on sex workers, instead of a measured discussion on migrants’ rights.  

What isn’t in dispute is the threat that big sporting events pose to workers’ rights, especially the migrant laborers that are frequently recruited for construction. Russia is no exception. The country spent an estimated $51 million in preparation to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. A 2013 report released by Human Rights Watch outlined abuses encountered by migrant laborers in Sochi, including being denied their full wages and working 12-hour days, seven days a week.  

The World Cup, which will be hosted by Qatar, has also come under sharp criticism for exploiting migrant laborers in the run-up to the 2022 games. Human rights groups have raised concerns that migrants are dying as they toil in Doha’s intense heat and humidity—but the country has not been forthcoming in releasing data on deaths or information about working conditions. In 2015, BBC reporters were arrested by the Qatari authorities for investigating the issue. The journalists were released after two days.

More articles by Category: International, Sports
More articles by Tag: Trafficking



Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.