Young people get to know each other at opening of the Children and Young People’s Forum, 21 March. The forum, organized by UNICEF, preceded the 7th East Asia and Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children.
SIEM REAP, Cambodia, 23 March 2005 – At the opening session of the 7th East Asia and the Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children, held here 23 - 25 March 2005, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy called on participating countries to do more to tackle the growing disparities facing the region’s most vulnerable children.
“Evidence indicates that inequities and disparities are increasing in this region,” said Ms. Bellamy. “The fruits of growth have not been equally shared. Many families are deprived of access to basic social services that are fundamental to the fulfilment of their rights. We need strong, concerted, unified action to ensure disparities do not become a scourge that robs us of hard-won gains and fuels division and conflict.”
Ms. Bellamy noted that certain groups such as ethnic minorities, rural and urban poor, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and the disabled - including those in remote geographic areas - were no better off than they were a decade ago. “Many children are deprived of access to basic social services that are fundamental to the fulfilment of their rights,” said Ms. Bellamy.
Forty children and young people aged between eleven and twenty-one from across East Asia and the Pacific came together to let their voices be heard.
More than 200 delegates representing 26 countries in the East Asia and Pacific region participated in the event. Forty children and youth from across East Asia and the Pacific also came together in the historic city of Siem Reap to voice their desires at the Children and Young People’s Forum, organized by UNICEF prior to the consultation.
The 7th Ministerial Consultation reached a consensus, the ‘Siem Reap – Angkor Declaration’, on how to better address disparities. Particular attention was also paid to child survival, growth and development.
During the period 1990-2003 economic growth in East Asia and the Pacific was the fastest in the world, with an average annual rate of 6.2 per cent. The final decade of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st have seen a marked increase in attention to the rights and welfare of children.
The region is characterized by a high net enrolment (NER) in primary school, with a regional average of 90 per cent and very little gender disparity. Several countries have already achieved the targets laid out in the ‘World Declaration on Education For All’.
The least successful indicators in this region, taken as a whole, are in reducing the prevalence of child malnutrition and improving access to safe water and improved sanitation.
Young people at the Children and Young People’s Forum.
Most countries in the region are showing improvement in their under-five mortality rates (U5MR), although an overall slowdown in the pace of reduction is a cause for concern.
Of all the health and nutrition indicators in the region, maternal mortality ratios have proven the most resistant to change over the last decade. After more than two decades of interventions, an average of 78 per cent of people in this region are reported to have access to safe drinking water, yet this still leaves 418 million people without access.
Good nutrition is necessary for optimal growth and development, both physical and cognitive. Under-nutrition has been found to be an underlying cause of 53 per cent of all deaths in children younger than five years of age.
There is no doubt that East Asia and the Pacific has done more than any other region to increase access to education over the past 30 years.
Between 1990 and 2000 there was a general expansion of pre-school coverage in the region, but more recent trends suggest that in several countries, the coverage of pre-primary education has stagnated and, in some cases, declined.
While primary enrolments have increased significantly in most countries in the East Asia and Pacific region, serious concerns remain in regard to disparities in access and the quality of education being provided.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 508,118 people – 5.3 per cent of the world’s refugee population – are hosted within countries of East Asia and Pacific. Many people in the region have been internally displaced as a result of years of continuing insecurity and armed conflict in Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.
The use of children as combatants by government armed forces and other armed groups still occurs in the region, in Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular.
The East Asia region has been the most affected region in the world in terms of natural disasters and, in 2004, suffered 26 per cent of all disasters, 78 per cent of fatalities and 45 per cent of the total number of people affected. This includes the December 2004 tsunami.
The number of people living with HIV continues to grow in every region, but the steepest increase is occurring in East Asia, with a 50 per cent jump in HIV incidence between 2002 and 2004.
An estimated 1,700 children under the age of 15 around the globe are infected by HIV every day. Many are young children, infected at birth by mothers who are unaware of their HIV status.
AIDS is both an emergency and a pressing issue of vast socio-economic consequence. The comparatively low regional and national HIV prevalence in East Asia and the Pacific region is no cause for complacency, as it hides a potentially explosive condition.