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 Writer's Desk  ... introducing NCR's mission of faith and justice based journalism

December 13, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 35



Margot Patterson Governments choose to hurt children

Tom Fox, NCR publisher

More than half the world's children are being deprived of their mental and physical health because governments have chosen policies that intensify the impact of poverty, war and HIV/AIDS, according to a report issued last week by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood. Poverty doesn't come from nowhere; war doesn't emerge from nothing, AIDS doesn't spread by choice of its own. These are our choices," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in London as she launched the State of the World's Children 2005: Childhood under Threat.

"When half the world's children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood."
Carol Bellamy,
UNICEF Executive Director

The new UNICEF report reveals that the majority of the world's 2.2 billion children are living in extreme conditions that effectively deny them a childhood and hinder the development of nations.

The report stresses that the failure of governments to live up to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world's most widely adopted human rights treaty, is causing permanent damage to children and in turn blocks progress toward human rights and economic advancement.

The report offers an analysis of seven basic "deprivations" that children feel and that powerfully influence their futures. UNICEF concludes that more than half the children in the developing world are severely deprived of one or more of the necessities essential to a healthy childhood:

  • 640 million children do not have adequate shelter
  • 500 million children have no access to sanitation
  • 400 million children do not have access to safe water
  • 300 million children lack access to information
  • 270 million children have no access to health care services
  • 140 million children have never been to school
  • 90 million children are severely food-deprived

The State of the World's Children also makes clear that poverty is not exclusive to developing countries. In 11 of 15 industrialized nations, the proportion of children living in low-income households during the last decade has risen.

Extreme poverty is one of the most devastating effects of armed conflict within countries, especially for children, as factions vie for ill-managed national resources.

According to Bellamy, "When half the world's children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood," she added.

These official choices minimize the chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals agreed on at a U.N. summit in 2000 and designed to reduce extreme poverty by 50 per cent by 2015, she said.

The report highlights the lack of will among nations, including the United States, to confront the issue of the deprivation of children. The estimated annual cost required to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, aimed at halving extreme poverty, would be $40 billion to $70 billion. World military spending in 2003 ran $956 billion. U.S. military spending ran over $400 billion.

Through analyses and statistics the report examines three of the worst factors reducing the chances for a satisfying childhood: poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the 55 civil wars and four international wars fought between 1999 and last year.

The report also highlighted the vast inequities which children grow up with worldwide.

For example, the gross national income per person in 2004 was $496 in sub-Saharan Africa and $511 in South Asia, compared to $1,426 in East Asia and the Pacific, $1,465 in the Middle East and North Africa, $3,311 in Latin America and the Caribbean, $2,036 in the countries in transition, and $28,337 in the industrialized countries.

The HIV prevalence rate ranged from 7.5 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, with 12 million of the world's 15 million AIDS orphans, through 1.1 per cent prevalence in all developing countries, to 0.4 per cent in the industrialized countries, according to the report.

"It does not have to be this way," the report states in stark understatement.

However, it will continue to be this way as long as war rallies people and imaginations more than do the needs of the children of the world.

Tom Fox's e-mail address is tfox@ncronline.org

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