David Beckham: Stand up for children everywhere

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  • David Beckham: It's more important than ever that we stand up for the protection of children
  • Too many children are being left behind, despite progress, Beckham writes

David Beckham, the English football star, is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)I first started working with UNICEF when I was playing football for Manchester United. During a preseason tour with the club to Thailand in 2001, I visited a local child protection center that was providing vital support to children as young as five who'd experienced violence and abuse. Seeing the organization's incredible work firsthand had a great impact on me, especially as my son Brooklyn was just 2 years old at the time, and as a new father I wanted to do what I could to help.

David Beckham
Fifteen years later, I feel extremely proud to still be involved in the work UNICEF does for children and last year I stepped up my commitment by launching 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund to help protect children from danger.
When I was asked to become a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2005, by then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, it was one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life. UNICEF has done more to help children than any other organization in history and to join the ranks of UNICEF ambassadors such as Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn was a huge honor.
During my time in this role, I've seen the lorries delivering aid, met the dedicated staff on the ground and seen how they just won't stop until every child has been vaccinated, has access to education, clean water and life-saving food. Until every child is safe.
I've met children and mothers in Swaziland living with HIV, children living in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, severely malnourished children in Sierra Leone and children who've experienced violence and abuse in Cambodia. I won't ever forget these children, their resilience and determination against all odds.
Seventy years ago, UNICEF was founded to meet the desperate needs of children whose lives had been torn apart by World War II. It didn't matter what country those children lived in or what role that country played in the war. What mattered was reaching the children at greatest risk and in greatest need.
Seven decades later, UNICEF is working for children in 190 countries to bring life-saving aid, long-term support and hope to children whose lives are in danger. Working to stand up for children everywhere, and for every child.
I feel privileged to be able to help shine a light on the great progress that has been achieved for children over the last 70 years. Since 1990, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has halved and hundreds of millions of children have been lifted out of poverty. I've met children who have been helped in so many ways. Children like 13-year-old Remi, who was born free from HIV thanks to UNICEF's work to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to their babies.
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Yet despite this significant progress, too many children are still being left behind. The last time I attended the United Nations I spoke about the need for world leaders to put all children, especially the most disadvantaged, at the heart of the new Sustainable Development Goals. Children like those I met when I visited Cambodia last year, who have experienced horrific violence and abuse, often at the hands of the people who should be keeping them safe. No child should endure this.
Yet shockingly, every five minutes somewhere in the world, a child dies from violence. Millions more are in danger of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that could destroy their childhoods forever. To help draw attention to this urgent issue, last week I launched a new film which shows how violence and abuse can mark children forever. I hope it will inspire action to help end all forms of violence against children.
I created my fund with UNICEF because I want a world where children grow up safe: safe from violence, war, poverty, hunger and preventable disease. A world in which every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Together we need to imagine a better future for every child and make sure that together we achieve it.