UNICEF: Governments Failing World's Children

Agency issues distressing indictment that "we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood."

By John Daniszewski

Los Angeles Times

3:24 PM PST, December 9, 2004

LONDON — Governments are failing the children of the world, with more than 1 billion living in a state of severe threat from hunger, disease, exploitation or lack of security, the United Nations children's agency said today.

In a distressing indictment, UNICEF said that in spite of some pockets of progress in 2004, "we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood."

"Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said as she unveiled the agency's annual State of the World's Children report.

Among the reports findings: 640 million of the world's 2.2 billion children lack adequate shelter; 500 million children have no access to sanitation; 400 million lack safe water; 270 million receive no healthcare; 140 million, mostly girls, receive no education; and 90 million are severely deprived of nutrition.

Even in developed countries, UNICEF said, the proportion of children living in low-income households has risen.

Bellamy had told a conference in Pakistan this week that nearly 10 million children under age 5 die each year from diseases such as diarrhea and measles.

The report released today calls attention to the plight of children in war, with tens of thousands killed, raped or maimed each year. It details the plight of children in northern Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan.

In Uganda, children crowd into urban sanctuaries to avoid being forced to join the Lords Resistance Army guerrilla group, only to routinely endure rape or other forms of abuse.

"The idea of childhood as a protected time of healthy growth has been effectively obliterated in northern Uganda," the report said, noting that 10,000 to 12,000 children have been taken by the guerrillas in recent years to become child soldiers, porters or sexual slaves.

Another trend is the explosion in the number of children orphaned by HIV and AIDS, 80% of them in sub-Saharan Africa. There are now 15 million AIDS orphans in the world, and the number continues to rise.

The number of children exploited in the multibillion-dollar global commercial sex industry is 2 million, the report notes, more than the population of some countries.

After presenting the findings, Bellamy said at a news conference that forgiving debts owed by Third World nations would help, but was not a panacea for the world's children.

"Debt servicing is not a productive use of money," she said. "But also the choice governments have made to invest in war or not to invest in HIV-AIDS drugs also has an impact."

There have been some improvements in the last 13 years, with global child deaths dropping in all regions except for sub-Saharan Africa, for an overall global decline of 18%. Thanks to public health campaigns in many Third World countries, deaths by diarrhea have been cut since the early 1990s from 3 million to 1.9 million.

Janet Stobart of the Times London bureau contributed to this report.