Half of kids suffer war, poverty, AIDS


More than half the world's children are suffering the effects of poverty, war and HIV/AIDS, denying them a healthy and safe childhood, according to UNICEF's annual report.

The United Nations children's fund report on The State of the World's Children found more than 1 billion children were growing up hungry and unhealthy, schools had become targets for warring parties and whole villages were being killed off by AIDS.

A failure by governments around the world to live up to standards outlined in 1989's Convention on the Rights of the Child caused permanent damage to children and blocked progress toward human rights and economic advancement, the report said.

"Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood," UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said.

A day before the report's release, an editorial published in The Lancet, the respected British medical journal, accused Bellamy of neglecting issues of child survival while emphasizing the rights of children.

"A preoccupation with rights ignores the fact that children will have no opportunity for development at all unless they survive," said the journal's editor, Richard Horton. "Child survival must sit at the core of UNICEF's advocacy and country work. Currently, and shamefully, it does not."

UNICEF spokesman Alfred Ironside said Horton ignored progress made on child survival rates.

"Globally child deaths have fallen by 18 percent since 1990," Ironside said in London.

In his foreword to the report, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said poverty denied children dignity and endangered their lives, conflict robbed them of a secure family life and HIV/AIDS killed parents, teachers, doctors and children themselves.

Compiled by UNICEF and researchers at the London School of Economics and Bristol University, the report found more than half the children in developing countries lived in poverty without access to basic goods and services.

It also said:

  • One in six children was severely hungry.
  • One in seven had no access to health care.
  • One in five had no safe water.
  • One in three had no toilet or sanitation facilities at home.

The report found 640 million children did not have adequate shelter; 300 million had no access to information such as TV, radio or newspapers and 140 million children, the majority of them girls, had never been to school.

Poverty was not confined to developing countries, the report said, as the proportion of children living in low-income households in 11 of 15 industrialized nations rose in the past decade.

More than 10 million child deaths were recorded in 2003, with an estimated 29,158 children under 5 dying from mostly preventable causes everyday.

UNICEF reported conflict around the world had seriously injured or permanently disabled millions of children, while millions more endured sexual violence, trauma, hunger and disease caused by wars.

Nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in conflict during the 1990s were children and around 20 million children were forced from their homes and communities by fighting.

UNICEF said almost half a million children under 15 died of AIDS in 2003, while another 630,000 children were infected with HIV.

By 2003 some 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV/AIDS, most of whom were infected during pregnancy, birth or through breast-feeding.

From 2001 to 2003, the number of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS rose from 11.5 million to 15 million and around 80 percent of those were living in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UNICEF report said the world had the capacity to reduce poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS and improve the plight of the world's children.

It said Millennium Development Goals, which aim to improve the world through human development by 2015 and were agreed to by the U.N.'s 191 member states in 2000, could be achieved at an annual cost of $40-$70 billion. In comparison, world spending on military in 2003 was $956 billion.

Bellamy said the quality of a child's life depended on decisions made by the global community and the world's governments.

"We must make those decisions wisely and with children's best interests in mind. If we fail to secure childhood, we fail to reach our larger, global goals for human rights and economic development," she said.

CNN “The State of the World's Children” [December 9, 2004]