Hong Kong Sevens

Hong Kong Sevens joins Olympics and Super Bowl in fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation of children

UK-based charity It’s a Penalty uses global sporting events as a platform for change, educating people on how they can make a difference

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 8:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 11:45pm

It is hoped a global campaign using the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as a vehicle to fight the sexual exploitation of children will have a lasting impact in the city.

Along with the Super Bowl, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, the Sevens is at the forefront of a 2018 campaign by UK-based charity It’s a Penalty to harness the “power of sport to protect children and young women from trafficking, abuse and exploitation”.

It’s a Penalty is using these sporting events as platforms for change, educating people and empowering them “with the mechanisms to report a crime”, including a hotline to report any wrongdoing.

“In [Hong Kong] they don’t have the extraterritorial legislation and one of the things we are going to do is collect the calls that come in and take them to the government and say ‘we do have an issue here, you need to get behind it’,” said It’s a Penalty chief executive Sarah de Carvalho.

“It is a global issue, it’s not just happening in Hong Kong. That’s why we’ve got the support of Australia for the Commonwealth Games, South Korea for the Winter Games and America for the Super Bowl.

“It’s putting the issue up the agenda and saying ‘we can’t ignore it’. It’s a really difficult subject to talk about, it’s a hidden issue because of the nature of what it is.”

The Hong Kong government has been criticised in the past for legal loopholes in its trafficking laws, with Legislative Council member Dennis Kwok Wing-hang proposing a modern slavery bill earlier this year to combat the issue.

“There’s two reasons why we run our campaigns during major sporting events,” De Carvalho said. “First of all, we know through research that where there is an influx of hundreds of thousands of people, the vulnerable children are put at greater risk because unfortunately there are unscrupulous people, the traffickers and exploiters, that will exploit these children to make money.

“They will dress them up to look older than they are, they will send them to the bars and our message is it is illegal to have paid sex with a child. If you are in a bar and you see a victim, call the number because they will help.”

Hong Kong launches action plan on human trafficking but critics say more must be done

In partnership with local organisations Stop Trafficking of People and the Mekong Club, as well as the Hong Kong Rugby Union, It’s a Penalty is also circulating educational leaflets and wrist bands at Hong Kong Stadium and other Sevens hotspots this weekend, informing people of signs to look out for in the hope the impact of their campaign will last well beyond the tournament.

They first ran the campaign, which also includes screening a short movie on airlines and at venues, during the soccer World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and followed up at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“During the World Cup, using exactly the same model, there were 11,252 calls reporting child exploitation, during the Olympics there were 5,051,” said De Carvalho.

For the Hong Kong Rugby Union, partnering with It’s a Penalty was the perfect fit.

“As part of this, we had a speaker come in from the Mekong Club and he spoke to the whole union staff about the issues of human slavery and it was really impactful,” said HKRU chief executive Robbie McRobbie.

“I don’t think any of us really had any idea about the scale of the issue. It’s been a real education for all of us.”