[VIEWPOINT]World Cup to spotlight children

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[VIEWPOINT]World Cup to spotlight children

I am so excited that World Cup 2002 will be held under the banner "Say Yes for Children." Soccer has been called "the people's game," played by millions and watched by billions, many of whom are children. How wonderful that they will be reached by this powerful message, "Say Yes for Children," from the United Nations.

Soccer is a life-affirming game, allowing young boys and girls to play and use their energies to the fullest, fostering team spirit and competition on friendly terms. The Convention of the Rights of the Child recognizes that children have the right to recreation and play.

This is true for all children, but especially those growing up in the shadow of war and destruction, poverty and destitution. I have read the most heartwarming stories about how soccer has returned to Afghanistan, and how soccer has reunited players in countries torn by civil war.

World Cup 2002 will highlight the need to protect and care for children. Every bouncing ball will remind us of this message, especially on June 19, a day UNICEF and FIFA have named World Soccer Day for Children.

"Say Yes for Children" are not empty words. In May, just before the World Cup, the leaders of the world are meeting at the United Nations to ensure those words become reality. More than 80 million people have already voted for the 10 appeals that are aiming to give children a better future. You can vote too, at www.gmfc.org

In his report "We the Children," my husband wrote: "A world fit for children is a just and peaceful world. It is one in which all children are given the love, care and nurturing they need to make a good start in life, where they can complete a basic, good-quality education and, in adolescence, develop their potential in a safe and supportive environment that will help them become caring and contributing citizens. This is the kind of world children deserve ?and one that we, as adults, have an irrefutable obligation to create."

The first appeal asks us to leave no child out. Don't exclude the child who is different, destitute, or may be an orphan of war or AIDS. Let it be an open playing field for everybody to participate, independent of where they are born, their race, religion, or whether they are a girl or a boy.

If no child is excluded, we have to care for all children ?another of the 10 appeals. It is vital to remember that 10 million children die every year of preventable diseases and malnutrition. That means we change this.

We have to protect the earth for children. To quote an African proverb: "The earth is not ours to keep; we hold it in trust for future generations."

We must also listen to children. Children are the leaders of tomorrow.

Two appeals that go straight to the heart are stop harming and exploiting children and protect children from war.

Don't leave the child out. The violence and abuse that children suffer must be stopped, and so must the sexual and economic exploitation of children.

Two appeals I make are educate every child and fight poverty. Education is the only tool we have to give boys and girls a chance at life. Poverty holds dreams captive. Let's work to release those dreams.

The fight against HIV/AIDS stands out as another appeal, as 13 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. I have met with children orphaned by AIDS. Not only do their personal fates fill you with deep sorrow, but their futures are bleak as entire national infrastructures are threatened by the disease. My husband is engaged in a race against time to mobilize governments and the private sector in the fight against AIDS.

Put children first. This is an appeal to all. Listen to Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel: "We cannot waste our precious children. Not another one, not another day. It is long past time for us to act on their behalf."

For the sake of future generations, I thank FIFA on behalf of my husband and the whole UN family for devoting World Cup 2002 to children, as well as the World Cup Organizing Committees of Korea and Japan for ensuring that children will not be forgotten in this event. I am proud and grateful that I am undertaking a special mission to the Republic of Korea and Japan to promote this vital message.


Nane Annan, wife of the UN's secretary general, arrives in Seoul on May 28 as UNICEF's special guest.

by Nane Annan

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