In Afghanistan, aid workers from UNICEF and Save the Children have set up recreation areas for children in refugee camps so they can seek some semblance of normalcy in play.
Football has become a favorite. Although girls generally play separately from the boys, they openly play football too, and they can sometimes even be seen kicking the ball around with a male classmate.
In a country where the former Taliban rulers forbade kite flying as well as the mixing of the sexes, some aid workers say these young footballers are the first children they have heard screaming for joy.
A program called Spaces of Hope reaches out to poor children in violent slum areas in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Spaces offers these young people football as a fun activity that can be a healthy and productive outlet for teens in difficult circumstances. It also offers programs in music and theater, libraries and computers with free Internet access.
Two members of the Brazilian national football team have founded centres for at-risk children that combine study and sports. The centres provide daily lessons in a wide range of subjects, from English to computer literacy, and the school day ends with a game of football.
"I am crazy about football," confesses 20-year-old Yidnekachew, who coaches the Tabor Wegagen football team, an initiative of an anti-AIDS NGO called the Tabor Wegagen Association. The team promotes football as a healthy, empowering and fun alternative to unsafe sex, drugs and violence.
In economically depressed Ethiopia, football offers one of the few healthy diversions for young people suffering from the country's high unemployment rate and limited educational opportunities.
"We compete against twelve other clubs," says Yidnekachew. "This keeps the boys off the street and out of trouble. They do not chew chat or do other harmful [things]. This is important during school holidays, especially over the long summer break." Players have become so dedicated to the sport and the cause that, when there's no money to buy football boots, they even play barefoot.
The Tabor Wegagen Association uses the football matches to spread AIDS awareness messages. The group also trains team members to be HIV/AIDS peer educators.
"Poverty and economic hardship make it very easy for young
people to feel insecure about their future," says Ibrahim Jabr,
a UNICEF representative in Ethiopia. "Instilling self worth
and self-esteem is therefore critical for the success of HIV/AIDS
prevention among the youth. When a person feels that their life
has value and meaning, it is much easier for them to correct or
change habits that may put that valued life at risk.
In the eastern European country of Georgia, more than 46,000 children from 2028 schools have participated in regional football tournaments sponsored by UNICEF, businesses, NGOs and government agencies. These Children and Youth Football Championships, which began in 2001, are designed to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people. The message for kids: Smoking, drinking and taking drugs cant compare to the extraordinary high of kicking a winning goal.
Just before the teams take the field for Honduras national championship football game, another, more unusual football match takes place. This game is between teams called The San Pedrano Football Club and Death United, with the latter fielding players named Infected Syringe, Drugs, Infidelity, Promiscuity and in the attack positions -- HIV and AIDS. On San Pedranos side, Knowledge, Abstinence, Fidelity and Condom fight back hard.
Played out before a packed stadium of 35,000 football fans, with more than two million watching from home on television, the match is a carefully scripted show called Let's Score a Goal against AIDS. Put on by Comvida, a local NGO backed by UNICEF and the Honduras Ministry of Health, the show dramatizes how easily HIV/AIDS spreads, while demonstrating how individuals can protect themselves from the deadly disease.
"We believe it's very important to take the prevention message to the sports arena, because of the great numbers attracted by these events, says Juan Ramon Gradelhy, Comvida's director. What we try to do is entertain the fans, taking into consideration their interests, and at the same time pass on our message about the problem of AIDS."
"The Comvida show is good because it creates awareness amongst us, the public, one Honduran football fan agrees. It's a good initiative for anyone exposed to HIV."
At half-time during a game of football in a district of Nairobi, Kenya that is one of Africa's most overcrowded and poorest neighbourhoods, 15-year-old Kennedy Arinda teaches his peers about girls, safe sex, relationships and AIDS. One in five residents of the district, Kibera, are HIV positive. Thousands have already died from AIDS, leaving some 50,000 orphans behind.
"A lot of the boys here start having sex as young as 10. So I advise them to abstain from sex," says Kennedy, an AIDS orphan who now lives with his grandmother. "The most we can do is get young people together to create awareness about HIV and AIDS. Some of them listen, which is good. My hope is that my friends will be faithful to their girlfriends and not be promiscuous. Because if they do go to discos and sleep around a lot, they'll get AIDS."
Kennedy and his helpers also visit local bars and barber shops
to distribute condoms and spread the message about safe sex and
In Liberia, Rotary International sponsors a project called Child Well-Being Promotion through Sports, with the backing of UNICEF and football superstar George Weah.
The project uses football as a way to bring attention to the poor health conditions of children in Liberia. The country also hosts a national children's football tournament.
Each Saturday morning, scores of youth gather to participate in the sports, drama and music programmes that are among the Support to War Affected Youth (SWAY) projects UNICEF funds. Some 6,000 young people have benefited from these programmes, which are aimed at providing war-affected youth with life skills, as well as outlets to help heal the countless emotional wounds of conflict.
They call themselves The Child Soldiers, but this is not an army--it's a football team. UNICEF has helped initiate a football programme for some of the 2,500 child soldiers airlifted out of conflict zones in southern Sudan.
The football games help these young former combatants work through their aggression in a positive setting. The play helps them to re-connect to their childhoods and to civilian life. The programme also helps the boys build self-esteem and talk about their experiences on the battlefield.
The airlift of child soldiers was the result of a personal promise the commander of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army made to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy in October, 2000. It is the largest effort of its kind to date.
During the span of a 90-minute match 375 young people age 15-24 will become infected with HIV.
There are 2.1 billion children in the world, accounting for 36% of the world's population. Some 132 million children are born each year.
Globally, 1 in 4 children lives in abject poverty - in families with income lower than $1 a day. In developing countries, 1 in 3 children live in abject poverty.
One of every 12 children dies before they reach five, mostly from preventable causes.
Of every 100 children born in 2000
53 were born in Asia (19 in India, 15 in
If social conditions remain unchanged, the following will most likely be their fate:
The births of 40 out of every 100 will not be registered. These children will have no official existence or recognition of nationality.
26 of every 100 will not be immunized against any disease.
30 will suffer from malnutrition in their
first five years of life.
Water and Sanitation
19 will have no access to clean drinking
17 of the children will never go to school. Of these, 9 will be girls. Of every 100 children who enter 1st grade, 25 will not reach the 5th grade.
1 of every 5 children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the developing world will work.
Half of those who work will do so full time.
These children will live to an average of 63
In the 45 countries most affected by HIV/AIDS, their average life expectancy is 58 years. In Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - countries heavily affected by HIV/AIDS - life expectancy is less than 43 years.