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Childhood Destroyed For Millions Of Children

UNICEF Media Release

December 2004


COLOMBO/LONDON, DECEMBER 2004 - Despite the near universal embrace of standards for protecting childhood, more than half the world's children are suffering extreme deprivations from poverty, war and HIV/AIDS.

Launching her 10th annual report on The State of the World's Children, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said more than 1 billion children are denied the healthy and protected upbringing promised by 1989's Convention on the Rights of the Child - the world's most widely adopted human rights treaty. The report stresses that the failure by governments to live up to the Convention's standards causes permanent damage to children and in turn blocks progress toward human rights and economic advancement.

"Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood," Bellamy said. "Poverty doesn't come from nowhere; war doesn't emerge from nothing; AIDS doesn't spread by choice of its own. These are our choices.

"When half the world's children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood," Bellamy said.

The report - entitled "Childhood Under Threat" - examines three of the most widespread and devastating factors threatening childhood today: HIV/AIDS, conflict, and poverty.


The report argues that children experience poverty differently from adults and that traditional income or consumption measurements do not capture how poverty actually impacts on childhood. It instead offers an analysis of the seven basic "deprivations" that children do feel and which powerfully impact on their futures. Working with researchers at the London School of Economics and Bristol University, UNICEF concluded that more than half the children in the developing world are severely deprived of one or more of the goods and services essential to childhood.

adequate shelter, access to sanitation, access to safe water, access to information access to health care services and education, food deprived

Even more disturbing is the fact that at least 700 million children suffer from at least two or more of the deprivations, the report states.

"In Sri Lanka, over 22 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, 1 in 5 households do not have a safe source of drinking water, and 1 in 4 children are malnourished," said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka. "Poverty is exacerbated by conflict and the unequal distribution of national resources. For example, in Monaragala 37 per cent of people live in poverty, while only 9 per cent of people Colombo suffer the same hardship."

But the report also makes clear that poverty is not exclusive to developing countries. In 11 of 15 industrialized nations for which comparable data are available, the proportion of children living in low-income households during the last decade has risen.


Along with poor governance, extreme poverty is also among the central elements in the emergence of conflict, especially within countries, as armed factions vie for ill-managed national resources. The report notes that 55 of 59 armed conflicts that took place between 1990 and 2003 involved war within, rather than between, countries.

The impact on children has been high: Nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in war since 1990 have been children, according to the report. And children are no longer immune from being singled out as targets, a trend underscored by the September 2004 attack on schoolchildren in Beslan, Russian Federation.

The report also outlines where the world stands on a ten-point agenda to protect children from conflict, first enunciated by UNICEF in 1995. It examines global trends in child soldiers, war crimes against children, and the damage caused by sanctions, among other issues, and finds that although some progress has been made it has been far from sufficient to ameliorate the impact of war on children's lives.

For example, hundreds of thousands of children are still recruited or abducted as soldiers, suffer sexual violence, are victims of landmines, are forced to witness violence and killing and are often orphaned by violence. In the 1990s, around 20 million children were forced by conflict to leave their homes.

"In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of children have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict, and many others have been left orphaned," said Mr. Chaiban. "To make matter worse, 1 in 5 people injured by landmines in Sri Lanka are children."

Conflict also has a catastrophic impact on overall health conditions. In a typical five-year war, the under-five mortality rate increases by 13 percent, the report states.

And with conflict aggravating existing poverty, the report emphasizes the need for greater global attention and investment in post-conflict situations, to ensure a steady and stable transition to development.


The impact of HIV/AIDS on children is seen most dramatically in the wave of AIDS orphans that has now grown to 15 million worldwide.

The death of a parent pervades every aspect of a child's life, the report finds, from emotional well-being to physical security, mental development and overall health. But children suffer the pernicious effects of HIV/AIDS long before they are orphaned. Because of the financial pressures created by a caregiver's illness, many children whose families are affected by HIV/AIDS, especially girls, are forced to drop out of school in order to work or care for their families. They face an increased risk of engaging in hazardous labour and of being otherwise exploited.

HIV/AIDS is not only killing parents but is destroying the protective network of adults in children's lives. Many of the ailing and dying are teachers, health workers and other adults on whom children rely.


The State of the World's Children argues that bridging the gap between the ideal childhood and the reality experienced by half the world's children is a matter of choice. It requires:

· Adopting a human rights-based approach to social and economic development, with a special emphasis on reaching the most vulnerable children.

· The adoption of socially responsible policies in all spheres of development that keep children specifically in mind.

· Increased investment in children by donors and governments, with national budgets monitored and analyzed from the perspective of their impact on children.

· The commitment of individuals, families, businesses and communities to get involved and stay engaged in bettering the lives of children and to use their resources to promote and protect children's rights.

"The approval of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was our global moment of clarity that human progress can only really happen when every child has a healthy and protected childhood," said Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director.

"But the quality of a child's life depends on decisions made every day in households, communities and in the halls of government. We must make those choices wisely, and with children's best interests in mind. If we fail to secure childhood, we will fail to reach our larger, global goals for human rights and economic development. As children go, so go nations. It's that simple."

Read the full SOWC, access broadcast video and audio, and see additional features at:

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