The Dark Side of World Cup 2014

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Photograph: It’s A Penalty

With the World Cup kicking off in less than a week, all eyes are focused on Brazil.  The international media coverage of the event is not only on sport.  The international media has reported on the dissatisfaction of Brazilians with the World Cup.  Protests have  occurred due to factors like the World Cup expenses and the potential impact on the Brazilian economy.  Another concern which is being highlighted in the media is the sexual exploitation of children in Brazil.

Yesterday, BBC Panorama aired the documentary In the Shadow of the Stadiums.  Investigative reporter Chris Rogers was joined by Matt Roper, a journalist and charity worker.  The BBC interviewed children involved in prostitution, members of the police, and government researchers.  Roper’s charity, Meninadança, works to prevent the sexual exploitation of children along the BR-116, one of the longest highways in Brazil, and Roper has been raising awareness of the issue for years.

The BBC report raises the issue which NGOs had warned could occur.  It was speculated that the influx of tourists supporting the World Cup would exacerbate the problem of the child sexual exploitation of boys and girls in Brazil.  Recent reports suggest that the trafficking of children to World Cup cities is occurring and NGOs are still concerned about the consequences of the World Cup for vulnerable children.

Another recent documentary  by Sky News, Brazil’s Children: Traded Innocence, also looks into the issue and more recently, Channel 4 have also reported from Brazil.  The sexual exploitation of children in Brazil is certainly not a recent problem but due to the World Cup the problem is expected to worsen.  The current media coverage of this issue is bound to shock some people as the extent of the problem is uncovered.  The children involved in this sexual exploitation are often the victims of criminal networks which involve prostitution, drugs, trafficking, and violence.  Clearly, for the children involved, it is a flat-out denial of their human rights, and one in which football fans could become unknowingly complicit.

In this context, the work of It’s A Penalty is particularly important.  The It’s A Penalty campaign is supported by various charities who work full-time in Brazil.  Famous footballers like David Luiz, Alan Shearer, and Gary Lineker are supporting the campaign.  The campaign asks football fans to be aware of the prostitution of minors in Brazil, which is illegal.

A similar Brazilian campaign is Bola na Rede (Ball in the Net).  The organisers of Bola na Rede have the same concerns about the sexual exploitation of Brazilian children and are fighting for change.  Other national and international NGOs are also campaigning against the issue.  With the 2016 Olympics, also to be held in the country, rapidly approaching, it is hoped that the Brazilian government will continue to target social issues like child sexual exploitation, poverty, and violence.

Whilst the World Cup and the Olympics are sure to provide the world with much entertainment and inspiration, awareness of the issues of child sexual exploitation and trafficking are important.  Hopefully the awareness being raised by the media and NGOs will have a long-term positive effect on the prevention of the sexual exploitation of minors in Brazil, not just during the World Cup but also after.

Published at The National Student – 11th June 2014

Saving Southbank Skate Park

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Photograph: Long Live Southbank

If you have ever walked along London’s famous South Bank your eye will have been caught by the bright colours of the heavily graffitied Undercroft skate park, and the impressive tricks (and falls) of the skateboarders, BMXers, and other urban sports enthusiasts who use the park frequently.

The eye catching and unique skate park has been a feature of the cultural scenery of South Bank for decades, since the 1970s, and is an important part of skateboarding history, known widely as the birthplace of British skateboarding.  It is used by local skaters and internationally famous skaters alike, and is a constant hub of activity, not only for skaters and graffiti artists, but also as an open place for people to meet and watch the action.

Unfortunately, in March 2013 The Southbank Centre revealed their redevelopment plans, which included turning the Undercroft skate park into retail units. This proposed destruction of Southbank skate park has been met with an overwhelmingly negative response, from those who use the skate park and those who understand the cultural importance of the space.

A ‘Long Live Southbank’ campaign has been using media and a petition on change.org to raise awareness of the public’s disapproval of the redevelopment, and to overturn the decision, fighting for preservation of the skate park instead of relocation and the construction of a new skate park. The petition has so far raised over 60,000 signatures.

The ‘Long Live Southbank’ campaign describes the importance of the skate park on their website, ‘we believe its cultural and historical status to be irreplaceable and that its unique architecture and the vitality of the thriving community should be present for future generations’.

The reasons to save Southbank skate park are not motivated by nostalgia. They are motivated by the importance of protecting an existing and vibrant community of diverse sport and street culture, and preserving a significant cultural and historical landmark.

This will ensure that the cultural and sporting landscape of South Bank continues to flourish for years to come. For skateboarding is not a sport that is dying out, but a sport that continues to be popular and, along with other urban sports, continually evolves in dynamic new directions.

Just as London is the capital of the UK, the Undercroft skate park can be viewed as the ‘capital’ of British skateboarding. It is an important landmark which, if destroyed, will affect the cultural integrity of The Southbank Centre, who claim to encourage the arts and make them available to all, but fail to recognise the thriving artistic and creative community existing beneath them.

If the Southbank skate park is destroyed, not only will skateboarding lose a valuable and iconic space, but the community will lose a unique cultural landmark in London’s history.

Published at The National Student – 22nd November 2013

Pride, Prejudice, and YouTube

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is coming to an end.  The YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, created by Hank Green, has been a part of my life since April 2012. I can’t even remember how I discovered this web series, which has become a cult hit online.  I’m amazed to realise I’ve been watching it for the last 10 months; its longevity and popularity is certainly a credit to the creators.  Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite novels, and I’ve seen all the period-conscious adaptations of the text.  It is safe to say I am well familiarised with the plot by now,  so what has compelled me to watch this story, which I already know, unfolding in five minute video clips released over the  year? (It sounds like something out of A Clockwork Orange!) Yet I’m still watching and I’m still not bored; in fact, quite the opposite.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is shot as a ‘v-log’ and Austen’s classic story is set in present day America.  Two short videos are posted every week, plus spin-offs; Lydia Bennet has her own ‘v-log’ too.  The idea is innovative, experimental, and thus had the scope to go very wrong.  Instead, it has worked wonderfully, testified by the fact that popularity for the series has only grown as the story has developed and new characters have been introduced.  It is clear from the comments on the videos that some of the audience has never read Pride and Prejudice, and the show is their first introduction to Jane Austen.

I am intrigued to see how the writers and actors translate the book into the present-day, especially in ‘v-log’ format as it means the characters are self-conscious and know they are being filmed and have an audience.  Yet, the show remains fairly true to Austen’s narrative, with only a few moments where I have had to suspend disbelief and accept a significant change from the original novel.

The cast is well-chosen, comprising of professional actors who embody Austen’s characters, but with a modern twist, like William Darcy’s penchant for wearing hipster bow ties, and Jane Bennet’s fashion career.  Lizzie Bennet herself is a cynical postgraduate who loves media and documents the foibles of her family and friends for a school project.  All the characters are modernised in believable and clever ways which add to my understanding of the characters in the book.

The creators of the show do take creative licence, for example their development of Lydia Bennet, who is a much more sympathetic character than the girl Jane Austen envisaged.  Again, the deviation from the novel only adds to the show and the story as a whole.  Other small and necessary changes that are made in no way harm the show, and the embellishments, modernisations and change of setting all add to the experience.

Not only does the show use YouTube as its platform, making it thoroughly relevant to the modern day and accessible to the highly digital audience of present times, but it also pushes the boundaries of story-telling through a transmedia experience.  Integration of the characters into social networks like Facebook and Twitter make the show current and believable.  Twitter in particular is used very effectively to show viewpoints other than Lizzie’s, and to further develop previously side-lined characters like Caroline Bingley.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an entertaining and interesting adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Austen’s most famous novel particularly lends itself to a modern retelling because her characters encompass a range of human behaviour and type.  There is realism in Austen, even if she sometimes exaggerates.  I hate to use the word ‘timeless’ but it is clear that Austen’s story is universal.  Many romance and romantic comedy conventions seem to find a root in Austen’s works; her books have certainly been influential.

After having invested so much time in this show it will be strange to see it come to an end.  But it’s not over yet, and hopefully others will be willing to risk making similar book adaptations that think outside the box and take the internet by storm.  Who knew Jane Austen and YouTube could complement each other so well…

If you are interested in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and would like to take a look yourself, see it here:

Published at The Bubble – 30th January 2013

Sex Tourism and Child Prostitution in Brazil

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Photograph: alobos Life on Flickr

Brazil is a beautiful country, with a diverse culture and much to recommend it to travellers.  However, some travellers and tourists have more sinister aims in mind when visiting Brazil.  Politically and economically, Brazil is one of the most stable countries in South America, with democratic principles, a successful economy, and a female president.  However, like all countries, there are social issues, and a terrible and prevalent issue in Brazil is that of child prostitution.

Brazil is second only to Thailand in the number of children in prostitution, with half a million estimated (UNICEF).  Child prostitution is not only a problem in remote rural areas of the country, but in large cities like Rio de Janiero child prostitution continues despite the law.  Child prostitution is a serious issue in Brazil, not only among street children in towns and cities.  The BR-116 motorway stretches for 2,700 miles from the North to the South of Brazil, through the most populated regions and it is the most active road in the world for the sexual exploitation of children.  The BR-116 is used constantly and there are many towns and villages along its breadth where children as young as 9 years old are ‘working’ on the side of the motorway selling their bodies to passing truck drivers.  Some families even open their homes as brothels.  Every 10 miles a child is sold for sex (Meninadança).

The human rights of the children in child prostitution are being completely ignored; destroying education, mental and physical health, a future and autonomous choice.   The environment these children live in is almost impossible to leave; many children are forced to prostitute themselves by their own parents or guardians.  Sexual abuse within families and communities, and the common abuse of street children is a continuing problem.

The Olympics is a great international event, and in 2016 it will be held in Rio de Janeiro, the first host city from South America to hold the Olympics. This is an exciting experience for Brazil and the eyes of the world will be on the country. However, the expected tourism and money that will come into Brazil with the Olympics is being exploited by both those organising child prostitution and those who use child prostitutes.

The Olympics in 2016, combined with the Football World Cup of 2014 which is also to be held in Brazil, will exacerbate the already prevalent issue of child prostitution.  ‘Sex tourism’ is expected to increase, and is already being advertised online, and many children will be brought into the big cities from more rural areas, to work as prostitutes.  The age of consent in Brazil is already lower than other countries, at 14 years, but the prostitution of minors up to the age of 18, is illegal.  The increase of tourists coming into Brazil for these two international sporting events will include many sex tourists, putting the children and young people of Brazil who are already at risk or involved in prostituition in more danger.

Child prostitution in Brazil is a difficult challenge seemingly outside the boundaries of law and morality.  There are certainly serious issues with the system of how the law deals with this. The court case covered by The Economist (April 7th 2012) is an example of this, where a man who had sex with three 12 year old girls was cleared of all charges, because the children were prostitutes.  The Economist reported the judges as saying that the girls were, ‘far from innocent, naive, ignorant or ill-informed about sexual matters’.  But clearly, that is the very problem.  Children should not be forced into prostitution at all.

The Brazilian government plans to crack down on child prostitution before the Olympics, though does this imply they were not taking such stringent measures to deal with this problem before? There are also charities working to prevent the increase of child prostitution in the run up to the 2014 Football World Cup, and even more significantly, the 2016 Olympics. Child prostitution in Brazil is a problem that needs to be exterminated.

Published by The Globalist – Epiphany Term 2013

Loving the 80s!

I was born in the 80s.  December ’89 – I skimmed in just under the wire.  I’ve always felt absurdly proud of myself for being born in the 80s, considering I didn’t have much to do with it. 

Who knows why? It is a feature of my identity and I love it.  I’m listening to some of the best 80s hits as I write this.  I’m realising that the songs we remember from the 80s are the ones where we can tell the singers and musicians threw themselves into the music.  In the 80s they weren’t afraid to just go for it and look a bit silly (ok I know, at the time they thought they looked awesome).  But today when these songs come on at parties and in clubs everyone gets into the joyful vibe.  No one worries what other people in the vicinity think, because the over-the-top dramatics of 80s music takes over.

Maybe we think we are laughing at the music (“I’m being ironic, yah?”) but actually we love the catchy bass lines, the enthusiastic drums and the overly emotional lyrics.

Iconic songs that have filtered through the years and into our long-term memories include  ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Jump (For My Love)’, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, and let’s not forget a staple student favourite ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. 80s music is FUN, plain and simple.   It’s all about theatrics, being loud and being heard.  Not forgetting the music videos, with the big hair, the expressive dance moves and the tight trousers.  Actually, this is sounding like any night out in a student city…

Of course I am ignoring many types of 80s music in this article and only looking at the loud anthems that can’t be missed out in any DJ’s playlist.  The Clash, The Smiths, The Police and many other respected bands and singers gave us great music.  However, I’m talking about the songs that make us jump to our feet and start dancing like extras from ‘Footloose’.  If Morrissey’s melancholy tones inspired that reaction in me I think I would get some very strange looks.

I was at a wonderful wedding last night and the songs that got everyone really dancing with abandon were the classic 80s songs.  Young and old were air guitaring to the intro of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and screaming the chorus of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ with heads thrown back. What can I say? Whenever we were born and whatever music we grew up listening to, maybe we are all children of the 80s.

What do you think? What are your favourite 80s songs?

Published at The National Student – 16th April 2012

International Day for Street Children 2012

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Photograph: Gustavo Gomes on Flickr

Today is the International Day for Street Children, hosted by the international network Consortium for Street Children.  Events are taking place all over the world, across 34 countries, to raise awareness of the issue.

This is the second event of this kind to take place; the first was in 2011.  The Consortium for Street Children is using this day to give a voice to thousands of street children to speak out for their rights.  The day is entitled ‘Challenging Perceptions’ and the charity aims to debunk common myths about street children that permeate society.

The existence of street children is an international concern.  Children are at risk and reliant on the streets to survive in developed countries as well as developing countries.  Issues of poverty, family breakdown, abuse and violence lead to children running to the streets in many cities.  From São Paolo to London and Bucharest to Phuket the situations that create street children are similar.  Street children deserve love, an education and safety from abuse just like any other child.

However, government policies across the globe  often do not realise the rights of street children and they are seen as delinquents who should not be helped by society.  The International Day wants to change this through encouraging awareness that street children have rights, and that this is not the way the world should be.

The Consortium for Street Children believes every street child has potential.  They are urging governments and society to understand the reasons for the existence of street children and aim to support street children. not to treat them as criminals; taking preventative measures against the key issues that continue to create street children in the first place.

The International Day for Street Children is sponsored by Aviva’s Street to School campaign.  It has also gained support from UN representatives and celebrities like Danny Boyle (director of Slumdog Millionaire) and the footballer Steven Gerrard.

A host of charities dedicated to helping vulnerable children are supporting the day and working within the UK, Africa, Europe, South and North America and Asia Pacific.  It is great to see the level of support and media interest that this day has already generated.  Anyone can get involved in a small way, whether it is signing a pledge, donating to a charity or changing your Facebook profile picture to raise awareness.

This event is important because street children do have rights just like any other child, and they are all worthy of our attention and time.

To read more about what is happening today and challenge your perceptions of street children check out their website at http://www.streetchildrenday.org/.

Published at The National Student – 11th April 2012

The Girls of the BR-116

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I want to highlight a specific issue in this article.  I want to bring a problem to your attention, and tell you of the work that one charity is doing to change it.  I want to talk to you about something uncomfortable, horrific and heart-breaking.  I want to tell you about child prostitution in Brazil.

There is a motorway called the BR-116.  It stretches for 2,700 miles across the diverse and beautiful country of Brazil through the most populated regions, past big cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo, all the way to Fortaleza in the north.

The BR-116 is used constantly by truck drivers and there are many towns and villages along its breadth.  In these rural poverty-stricken places are children as young as 9 years old, ‘working’ on the side of the motorway by selling their bodies to passing truck drivers.

The BR-116 is the most active road in the world for the sexual exploitation of children.

Every 10 miles a child is sold for sex. The problem is ignored, and victims are found hundreds of miles outside of their home towns.  Brazil itself is second only to Thailand in the number of children in prostitution – half a million are estimated to live in this way (UNICEF).

I don’t think anyone reading this can be unmoved by this despicable reality and the plight of the precious children involved. Meninadança is a charity working specifically with the children selling themselves on the BR-116. Shockingly, it seems to be the only charitable organization working with them at this time.

Meninadança means ‘Girldance’ in English, and uses dance and other therapies, combined with founding safe houses to rescue girls stuck in child prostitution.

Meninadança are already making a difference to these girls.  There is presently one dance centre in a favela (slum) in Belo Horizonte, and there is planning for two more centres on the BR-116. The work of this charity is just beginning and needs much support. Their long-term vision is a network of safe houses in key communities along the BR-116 motorway, as well as a presence in inner-city favelas where abuse and prostitution is destroying young lives.

Through the work of Meninadança, abused girls are rediscovering their self-worth and hope for the future.  Sexual exploitation robs girls of childhood, leaving psychological scars and trauma that can be lifelong. However, through Meninadança they find confidence and purpose in their dance.  More than anything these girls are being told they are worth attention and time and care, and are being given space to have a childhood again.

Meninadança takes preventative measures and works with girls who are at risk of child prostitution as well as girls already involved.  These girls are being given a future and love that isn’t dependent on what they can do, it is unconditional.

I watched an interview provided by Meninadança.  They were speaking to the mother of a teenage girl involved in prostitution who has run away from home.

The mother said that the worst thing about the whole situation was that the girl wasn’t bringing any money home.

This mother had been a young prostitute herself and her daughter who has disappeared is also pregnant.  This cycle of prostitution must be broken.  The environment these girls live in is almost impossible to leave; many girls are forced to prostitute themselves by their own parents.  Sexual abuse within families and communities is also an issue, and this behaviour is accepted as commonplace. As generations of girls and women are abused like this, the case looks hopeless.

But it isn’t hopeless.  Not if we stay aware of these situations and support the people and charities who are making changes right now.  Meninadança is one of these charities.  Just looking at the pictures of the girls dancing on their website is enough to see this is a worthwhile cause.

Child prostitution in Brazil and world-wide is a huge challenge seemingly outside the boundaries of law and morality.  It is also hugely important and it is happening right now.  It is too important to ignore.

For more information, go to http://www.meninadanca.org.

Published at The Bubble – 10th February 2012