Overcoming the Challenges Facing Children Is Key to Human ProgressNEW YORK, 31 December 2003 – Marking the New Year by calling attention to the immediate needs of children in developing countries, UNICEF today named the top five concerns for children in 2004: child survival, the effects of HIV/AIDS, children caught in war, exploitation, and insufficient investment.
“Each of these issues alone poses heartbreaking challenges for hundreds of millions of children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Together, they represent a global imperative to do more for children in 2004.”
Bellamy detailed the top five concerns:
Child Survival: Nearly 11 million children die before their fifth birthday each year and tens of millions more are left with physical and/or mental disabilities or learning impairment – solely because they and their caregivers lack the essentials needed for young children to survive and thrive. Measles, malaria and diarrhoea are three of the biggest killers, yet all are preventable or treatable.
HIV/AIDS: More than half of all new infections occur in people under the age of 25, with girls hit harder than boys. Some 14 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, 11 million of whom reside in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, the number of children in that region who have lost parents to AIDS is expected to have risen to 20 million.
Children Caught in War: In the last decade alone, more than 2 million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict, and more than three times that number have been permanently disabled or seriously injured. An estimated 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes and more than 1 million children have been orphaned or separated from their families.
Exploitation: Abuse, exploitation and violence extinguish the childhoods of hundreds of millions of children: Approximately 246 million children work, with 171 million of them working in hazardous conditions. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, and 2 million children, mainly girls, are believed to be exploited through the commercial sex trade. At any given time, over 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as eight, are exploited in armed conflicts in over 30 countries around the world.
Insufficient Investment in Children: Too many governments, in both the developed and developing world, fail to recognize that investing in children’s issues means investing in the futures of their countries. During the 1990s, total aid to developing countries declined, despite escalating problems such as AIDS. Children are not a high enough priority.
Education is the single best way to tackle these problems over the long term, Bellamy said.
“By making sure that all boys and girls get a basic education, we will not only give them a chance of growing into independent adults who can protect their own health and rights, but we will give the next generation of children a better chance of escaping a life of poverty and hardship,” Bellamy said. “If we continue to invest in children and insist that they be a central focus of any discussion about development, we may indeed make the world a better and safer place.”
Bellamy noted that while UNICEF continues to provide emergency assistance to children in disasters, such as last week’s massive earthquake in Iran, improving children’s lives requires attention and investment in the entrenched problems that often remain out of the headlines.
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For further information, please contact:
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York (+1 212) 326-7452
Erin Trowbridge, UNICEF Media, New York (+1 212) 326-7269
Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Media, Geneva (+41 22) 909-5712