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Large disparities between rich and poor are a persistent fact of life in Ecuador. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian children are more likely to grow up in poverty and face difficulties in access to education. Concerted government efforts to address disparities have shown some significant results, but with much of its budget earmarked for debt repayment, it is difficult for Ecuador to fund levels of social spending that might improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable families.
Issues facing children in Ecuador
- Stunting from chronic malnutrition affects 26 per cent of children under 5. Rates are markedly worse for indigenous children.
- Ecuador's constitution guarantees free basic education for all children. But in practice, schools operate on such limited budgets that families must cover the cost of books, teaching materials and utilities. These fees hinder poor families from sending their children to school.
- Net primary school enrolment rates are above 97 per cent, but only about half of all students enrol in secondary school. Between the ages of 12 and 17, 16 per cent of students drop out in order to work.
- The HIV prevalence rate among persons aged 15-49 is 0.3 per cent.
- Some 3 million Ecuadorians have emigrated abroad in search of work. Many of these workers have left children behind.
- Thousands of families were displaced when Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano erupted in August 2006, destroying roads, houses, and infrastructure. Massive ash fall also destroyed 23,000 hectares of crops and affected residents’ respiratory health. A second eruption in March 2007 exacerbated the population’s already vulnerable situation.
Activities and results for children
- In the aftermath of the Tungurahua eruptions, 11 temporary shelters were set up in the provinces of Tungurahua and Chimborazo, sheltering 4,750 people, including about 2,000 children. The shelters were equipped with educational materials, and 200 volunteers were trained to provide psychosocial assistance for children in the shelters and affected villages.
- The Government's maternal and child health programme has achieved 95 per cent coverage for basic immunizations. Pregnant women also receive iron supplements, while young children receive vitamin A and iron supplements along with their vaccinations.
- UNICEF-supported public service announcements on radio and television promote free, voluntary HIV testing as a way of reducing rates of mother-to-child transmission. By the end of 2006, the average number of monthly HIV tests conducted on pregnant women had nearly doubled.
- As a result of UNICEF’s collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the salt industry, 99 per cent of the population now consumes iodized salt.
- In the province of Napo, UNICEF has improved health-care services for 1,100 families in the most impoverished communities.
- UNICEF and its partners supported a ‘Textbooks for All’ programme. Local governments in seven provinces provided free textbooks to more than 400,000 children.
- Thanks in part to UNICEF advocacy, Congress has reformed the penal code to criminalize child pornography, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child trafficking. A high-profile media campaign called ‘Open Your Eyes’ focused on protecting minors from sexual abuse and exploitation and forming protection networks to provide services to child and adolescents victims.
- UNICEF is working with individual municipalities and industry leaders to end child labour in the banana and flower industries and in garbage dumps.