|Children give thumbs up during a match.|
LIMA, 25 July 2004 – Children were the centre of attention during the recent football tournament, Copa América 2004.
The South American Football Confederation (in Spanish, the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol or CONMEBOL), dedicated this year’s Copa América to early childhood development, in cooperation with UNICEF. Copa América is the oldest and most important football tournament in Latin America.
The regional football tournament kicked off on 6 July and took place in various cities in Peru. It began with 12 teams from Latin America: Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Chile. The finalists, Argentina and Brazil, faced each other on 25 July. And after a 2-2 full-time score line, Brazil became the 2004 Copa América champions for the seventh time after a thrilling 4-2 penalty shootout.
The theme of the Copa América campaign for children was ‘Con los niños sí se gana!’ (‘You win with children’). The main objective was to support the realization of the rights of children. Children need the best start in life in order to be able to develop into champions – not only in football but in any field.
Children who are born to healthy mothers, nurtured in loving families and who grow up in countries with clear priorities for children are more likely to be able to stay the course, in a 90-minute match or in any other challenging endeavour in life.
The Copa América 2004 also provided an opportunity to highlight the needs of Peruvian children under age three, especially in rural areas of the Andes and the Amazon. Chronic malnutrition is a serious problem in these regions, and in some areas is above 50 per cent. In Peru, overall infant mortality rates have significantly decreased in the last decade, but poorer areas of the country have not made as much progress as other areas.
|The ‘good start’ project supports early childhood development in poor communities.|
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy visited Cusco, one of the six host cities of the Copa América, during the semi-finals of the tournament. Statistical indicators of children’s well-being for Cusco were among the worst of the host cities. While in Cusco, Ms. Bellamy went to Hanaq; situated at 3,600 meters’ altitude, it is one of the 400 communities in Peru in which UNICEF works to promote early growth and development of children, from gestation to the age of three.
A UNICEF-supported programme for early childhood development, called ‘Buen Inicio’ (good start), began in 1999. A total of 138 villages, 396 centre health services and 207 rural communities are participating. At the present time, target populations include 31,000 pregnant women, 72,000 children under three years of age and 10,000 families.
Interventions focus on nutrition, health, hygiene and appropriate developmental stimulation. All pregnant women and children under three years of age living in the participating communities are referred to health services for prenatal and growth monitoring.
During her visit, Ms. Bellamy made an important statement about the indigenous children of the country. “During the Copa América, UNICEF has been repeating the slogan ‘Con los niños si se gana’ (You win with children). I want this slogan to especially include indigenous children,” she said. “They need special polices that complement and reinforce national policies, and that really attempt to make progress towards the realization of their rights.”