Children out of sight, out of mind, out of reach
Exclusion on the rise in East Asia and the Pacific
BANGKOK, 14 December 2005 – Millions of children in East Asia and the Pacific are falling through the cracks, invisible and forgotten, says a major UNICEF report focusing on the world’s most marginalized and excluded children.
Although East Asia and the Pacific has some of the world’s fastest growing economies, social inequities in the region are growing, exacerbating problems such as malnutrition, child labour and child trafficking. Around 14 per cent of people in East Asia and the Pacific live on less than $1 a day, according to The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible.
On average, a child born into the poorest 20 per cent of households is three times more likely to die than a child born into the richest quintile in East Asia and the Pacific, says the report, launched by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman in London.
“In East Asia and the Pacific, high economic growth tends to mask the reality of a growing gap between those who are benefitting from expansion, and millions who are being left behind and marginalized,” said Anupama Rao Singh, Regional Director of UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.
Disparities affect every stage of a child’s life, from their nutritional intake and the chances of an education, to their protection against disease and exploitation. Although primary school enrolment within the region stands at 90 per cent, there are striking differences between and within countries. For example, primary school enrolment in Lao PDR varies from 56 per cent in one province to up to 97 per cent. Disparities in secondary school attendance are even greater. In the Philippines, secondary school enrolment ranges from 31 to 97 per cent. The provision of clean water and sanitation also varies greatly between the cities and the countryside. For example, while urban water supply in 11 developing nations in the region has reached above 80 per cent of the population, rural water supply in some of these countries is as low as 29 per cent.
Public investment in health and education in the region is meager, with the region’s tax-based spending on health the lowest in the world.
“As a share of GDP, the region averages only 1.7 per cent for public health and 2.6 per cent for public education spending. These levels are only one-third to one-half of what is invested in other low-to-middle income regions,” according to Professor Lincoln Chen, Director, Global Equity Initiative, Harvard University Asia Center.
“Disparities are a zero sum game,” said Rao Singh. “Not only do children suffer as a result, our societies as a whole suffer since children are our future. To improve the quality of life for all children, we – governments, the public and private sectors - need to do more to reach those children who are living as outcasts – and that means increasing resources in basic services and targeting these to those most in need.”
Children exploited and abused are arguably among the most invisible, argues the report, which calls on governments to step up efforts to prevent the exploitation of children. One in ten children in East Asia and the Pacific excluding China are involved in child labour, including trafficking. Although reliable global statistics are impossible to compile, it is estimated that trafficking affects about 1.2 million children each year – with an estimated one third of these in East Asia and the Pacific. In this region, most trafficking is into child prostitution, according to the report.
The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible is a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, whose rights to a safe and healthy childhood are exceptionally difficult to protect. These children are growing up beyond the reach of development campaigns and are often invisible in everything from public debate and legislation, to statistics and news stories.
Without focused attention, millions of children will remain trapped and forgotten in childhoods of neglect and abuse, with devastating consequences for their long-term well-being and the development of nations. The report argues that any society with an interest in the welfare of its children and its own future must not allow this to happen.
* * *
To view the full report, please go to www.unicef.org
For further information and interviews please contact:
Madeline Eisner, UNICEF Media, Bangkok (+66 2) 356-9406 firstname.lastname@example.org