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United for UNICEF: Manchester United defend rights of vulnerable children

© UNICEF Malaysia/2009
UNICEF UK Ambassador and Manchester United player Ryan Giggs enjoys a lively conversation with a refugee teen whose parents come from Myanmar and who spends his free time as a football coach for younger refugee children in Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 17 July 2009 – Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Federico Macheda, along with Manchester United Foundation Chief Executive John Shiels, today took time out of the club's pre-season tour of Asia to help UNICEF champion the rights of marginalized children in Malaysia.

The football stars highlighted children’s increased vulnerability to HIV with a visit to Positive Living, a programme operated by the community-based PT Foundation. The group spent time with 10 young people from various challenging backgrounds – including children from families affected by HIV and AIDS, and children whose parents are sex workers or drug users, as well as street children and young refugees.

Despite Malaysia’s progress in child health and education, many children still find themselves living on the margins of society as a result of public discrimination, stigma and prejudice. These marginalized children are in the highest-risk category for HIV infection.

Stark realities for children
Joined by the players for an intimate discussion, the young people at Positive Living shared their feelings, dreams and daily life experiences, revealing the stark realities of life for youths shadowed by HIV, drug abuse, violence, exploitation and displacement.

Mr. Giggs spoke with Asha (not her real name), 15, whose father died as a result of complications from AIDS. Asha recalled the day her mother revealed her own HIV status.

“When my mother told me that she was HIV-positive, I panicked and didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I could not accept it.”

After her father died, Asha and her mother were forced to move from their home and community due to AIDS stigma and discrimination. “After my father passed away everyone hated my mother. Everyone hurt her,” she said.

Fair and equal treatment

Through their visit, the Manchester United players aim to highlight the facts about HIV;  help break down the prejudice and stigma faced by marginalized children; and advocate for their right to be treated fairly.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2009
Manchester United player Federico Macheda participates in a sharing session with vulnerable children in Malaysia.

“It’s tragic to hear how marginalized children and those affected by HIV suffer as result of stigma,” said Mr. Giggs. “But by joining these children here today and showing our support, we hope to send out a powerful message – that all children, no matter their background, where they live or their HIV status, should be treated equally.”

UNICEF is working with the government and partners to challenge discrimination, protect children, reduce stigma and promote awareness of these issues – including HIV prevention.

Fighting stigma is vital
“Fighting against stigma is a vital step in protecting marginalized children,” said Mr. Evra. “To do this, we must all learn the facts about HIV and AIDS: You cannot get HIV by playing with children who are HIV-positive.”

The footballers’ visit represents the latest development in the ground-breaking 10-year ‘United for UNICEF’ partnership between Manchester United and UNICEF and highlights the club’s continuing commitment to UNICEF’s 'Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS' global campaign.

Since 1999, the partnership has raised over $3.75 million, benefiting over 1.5 million children worldwide. In 2007, the club donated more than $150,000 to UNICEF Malaysia for youth HIV-prevention programmes.

“Lasting solutions for the next generation must address both protection from HIV and protection of children's rights," said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Youssouf Oomar. "These rights are not merely the benefit of a few but the entitlement of all children, regardless of their identity, HIV status, geographical location or gender."

The ‘United for UNICEF’ 10th anniversary coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year.



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