South Asia has 584 million children, the largest number of people under the age of 18 of any region of the world.
This represents a tremendous potential provided their rights are fulfilled and their needs met. Yet child poverty and deprivation in South Asia are among the worst in the world, affecting as many as 330 million children or 57 per cent of the child population. The region’s performance in health and education is inadequate and many of its children are exposed to violence and exploitation.
The weak progress on improving the situation of children and women is due to a potent mix of poverty, discrimination, social exclusion, sociopolitical conflict and natural disasters.
• One of every three child deaths globally occurs in South Asia.
• Nearly half of the world’s undernourished children live in South Asia, though only 25 per cent of the world’s children live there.
• Strong disparities persist among South Asian countries: a child born in Sri Lanka can expect to live 74 years; one born in Nepal 62 years.
• 63 per cent of South Asia’s children are unregistered at birth.
• South Asia is home to more than a third of the world’s children who lack a basic education. Some 42 million children do not go to school at all. Progress in educating girls and closing the gender gap has been slow. The quality of education and learning available to most of the region’s children is unsatisfactory.
• The latest HIV/AIDS estimates indicated that there were 36,000 new infections among the region’s children (0-14 years) in 2005, and that out of the 100,000 children living with HIV/AIDS, 30,000 were in need of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) but less than 100 were receiving it.
South Asia remains the most gender insensitive region in the world. Gender-based violence has been attributed to the lower status of females in most communities. Discrimination against girls begins before their birth in the form of female foeticide and continues throughout their lives – exacerbating the caste, class, religious and ethnic divisions that are widespread in the region.
Harmful traditional practices, child labour, and child trafficking are violations of a range of rights that critically impact the wellbeing of children in South Asia, where 43 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years are at work ranging from hazardous labour to work as domestic servants.
The challenge of ensuring full and equal rights to all children is made more difficult during conflict. Long-term conflicts in Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have left civilian populations, especially children, vulnerable to acts of violence.
The region also experiences natural disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan earthquake have dealt severe blows to four countries in the region over the last two years.
Though South Asia has made significant progress over the past five years, more needs to be done if countries are to meet the Millennium Development Goals and fulfil the rights of all children to survival, health, development and protection through access to quality basic social services, including health, nutrition, education, and protection against neglect, abuse and exploitation.Resources