Progress for Children Report 2009
Child Protection – Fast Facts on South Asia
In South Asia, there are more child marriages than in any other region. The region also has the greatest number of unregistered births; with almost half the world’s total in 2007. Child labour, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse are major problems in the region.
Child Marriage - More than half of the entire world’s women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in union by age 18 live in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa comes second with 39 percent of children getting married before turning 18. More than one in three women in the world who were married as children are from India. Despite its prohibition by law in most countries of South Asia, child marriage tends to be perpetuated by custom and religious practice; consequently, the prohibitions against it are harder to enforce. Children in India, Nepal and Pakistan may be betrothed or even married well before they are 10 years old. Child marriage is more likely to affect girls, but in India and Nepal, the rate of child marriage involving boys is 10 per cent or higher.
Data for 47 countries show that, overall, the median age at first marriage is gradually increasing. But the pace of change is slow in many countries. In South Asia for example, the median age at first marriage in Nepal and Bangladesh has increased but remains below 18.
Birth Registration – Registering a child’s birth is a vital step towards his or her protection. Birth registration provides an official record of a child’s existence and nationality, and is considered a fundamental human right under article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Birth registration should be free and universal yet the births of around 51 million children in 2007 were not registered, almost half of them in South Asia.
Children and adults whose births have not been registered are effectively invisible in the eyes of the State. That often puts them beyond the reach of the protection and services to which they have a right, such as health care and education. Children with a birth certificate are less vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking, and those caught up in complex emergencies are more likely to be reunited with their families.
An estimated 47 per cent of the children born in 2007 who were not registered are South Asian. Of these 24 million children, 16 million are from India. Throughout the region, there is a disparity in birth registration levels between rural areas (30 per cent) and urban areas (52 per cent).
Child labour - Some 13 per cent of all children in South Asia are engaged in child labour – around 44 million. Of these children, 29 million live in India, where the child labour rate is 12 per cent. Within India itself there are vast divergences between states in the incidence of child labour, ranging from 32 per cent in Gujarat to 3 per cent in Goa and Kerala, indicating that the regional targeting of policies aimed at eliminating child labour is essential.
Child Abuse - Sexual abuse and exploitation of children are a major concern for all the countries of South Asia. Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of violence if they are subjected to discrimination, neglect and disadvantage related to their caste, ethnicity, gender or economic status. And girls are generally at greater risk.
Child Trafficking - Trafficking of South Asian children into exploitative situations such as hazardous labour, prostitution or domestic servitude is widespread. As in other regions, trafficking occurs both within countries, especially in Bangladesh and India, and from one South Asian country to another, as with Nepalese who end up being exploited in India, or Pakistanis in Afghanistan. South Asian victims of trafficking are found in Europe and the Middle East. Insufficient emphasis has been placed on protecting child victims of trafficking and ensuring that any judicial proceedings brought against them are child sensitive.
Children in Emergencies – Children are also disproportionately affected by natural disasters, including earthquakes, droughts, monsoons and floods. Such disasters destroy homes and communities, create conditions in which disease can spread, keep children out of school and destroy the social systems that protect vulnerable children. Separated and unaccompanied children, especially child-headed households, are inevitably more vulnerable to economic or sexual exploitation and abuse. Emergencies can also cause serious threats to the psychological and social well-being of children, their families and communities.
UN Security Council Resolution 1539 (2004) called on the Secretary-General to develop a monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) that focuses on six specific violations of children’s rights: killing or maiming; recruiting or using children in armed conflict; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction; and denial of humanitarian access. In 2006, the MRM was piloted in 7 countries which included Nepal and Sri Lanka and has since officially expanded to 14 countries.
The South Asian region is subject to both human-made emergencies deriving from insurgency and instability, and natural disasters in the form of floods and earthquakes, which have a grave impact on children. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has isolated more than 40 per cent of the country’s territory, to which humanitarian workers have little or no access for extended periods. In Sri Lanka, conflict-affected districts have displayed levels of acute and chronic undernutrition far higher than the national average, and tens of thousands of children have had their education disrupted. In Nepal, many child protection systems have broken down, and children remain vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation
Children and Justice - The Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed its concern that juvenile justice systems in South Asia do not aim sufficiently to ensure the dignity of children and reintegrate them into the community. Juvenile justice systems are not distinct from those applied to adults, and they resort too swiftly to institutionalization. The 2006 UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children estimated that, every year, between 41 million and 88 million children in the region witness violence at home – the highest regional total in the world. Five countries are known to have applied the death penalty to children since January 2005 . The Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the death penalty or sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for children.