Former British prime minister John Major hopes the Street Child Cricket World Cup will prick the consciences of governments to do more to protect vulnerable young people, he told AFP in an interview.

AFP / Justin Tallis

The tournament begins in Cambridge on Saturday and climaxes with a final at the home of cricket, Lord's, next Tuesday, just weeks before the Cricket World Cup starts in England.

The mixed-sex teams come from traditional cricket powerhouses such as India and countries not normally associated with the sport, like the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is organised by Street Child United, a British charity that uses sport to change the negative perceptions and treatment of children living in poverty.

Major, whose eyes were opened to the street children's plight when during the 1992 Earth Summit he met survivors of a massacre outside a church in Rio de Janeiro, said it was "intolerable" that between 100 million and 150 million children were living on the streets.

And he said he believed people had much to learn from animals in the way they protect their children.

"Money is the root of all progress but there are choices to be made," he told AFP at The Oval after addressing the teams.

"I would have thought very high on the choices you must make ought to be the welfare of children who have nothing and nobody to care for them.

"All across the animal kingdom you will find the parents of animals will fight to the death to protect their children.

"We humans regard ourselves as a higher form of animal. I think we have the same sort of obligation."

Major said he could not begin to understand the lack of pity people displayed towards children living on the margins.

"I can't understand how anyone who sees street children does not have their consciences stirred into some form of action to help," he said.

"We would not let our children live remotely in the circumstances that 100-150 million children live round the world.

"If we are not stirred to help them then I think there is a deficiency in our conscience."

- 'No magic bullet' -

Major, an avid cricket fan, said Street Child United's co-founder John Wroe and everyone commected with the cricket competition were an example of "man's humanity to man".

He hopes the competition itself will help children to experience and see things they may never enjoy again while also making life-long friendships.

"There is a harder edged background to it," he said.

"The Street Child World Cup offers the opportunity to publicise the plight of these children and try and stir the consciences of the governments and international bodies that can and should do more than they are doing."

Major said he wanted to see concrete action replace rhetoric.

"There is a big gap to the United Nations talking about it and individual countries picking up the problem and both having the resources and the will to actually take action to help the children.

"We hope it will increasingly happen. There is no magic bullet and it won't happen overnight.

"However, the more we can publicise the back story of these children, the way in which their lives are materially different to those children we have ourselves, the more we can do (and) the better it will be. The World Cup can help in that."