“Even activities such as sports can create an unhealthy climate for children,” Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, a lawyer from the Philippines, told the UN Commission on Human Rights.

“In the past I have reported on children being trafficked into the United Arab Emirates to be used as lightweight camel jockeys, and I have now received reports that football is posing a similar risk,” she said in an address to the Commission.

Boys scouted in Africa as potential soccer stars were being abandoned after being lured to Belgium and other parts of northern Europe, said Calcetas-Santos.

“Head hunters scout certain countries, notably in Africa, looking for potential star athletes, give their parents or guardians money and then bring the boys to other countries, especially in northern Europe, to be offered to different football teams.

“The problem arises when no team will take the boy, who is then usually abandoned and left to fend for himself, without any attempt to repatriate him to his country of origin.”

In her written report, the UN investigator made clear that she had learned during a fact-finding mission to Belgium last December that boys were being trafficked for competitive sports.

“Mainly from African countries, boys are being brought to Belgium illegally to become soccer players. They are picked up by unofficial managers who visit countries such as Nigeria for this purpose, brought to Belgium and then taken from club to club by the managers who try to find them a place.

“If no place is found for them, often they are abandoned, and having come into the country illegally, they are placed in a very vulnerable position,” she added.