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Childhood Under Threat

 More than one 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, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in her 10th annual report on The State of the World's Children on Thursday in London.

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

Working with researchers at the London School of Economics and Bristol University, UNICEF has concluded that more than half of the children in the developing world are severely deprived of one or more of seven services essential to childhood. At least 700 million children suffer from at least two or more deprivations.

The seven essential services are: adequate shelter, access to sanitation, safe water, information (TV, radio or newspapers), health care services, education and sufficient food.

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

Along with poverty, the emergence of conflict, especially within countries as armed factions vie for ill-managed national resources, threatens children. The report notes that 55 of 59 armed conflicts that took place between 1990 and 2003 involved war within, rather than between, countries.

According to the report, nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in war since 1990 have been children. They are no longer immune from being singled out as targets, a trend underscored by the September 2004 attack on schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia.

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.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on children is seen most dramatically in the number of children orphaned by the epidemic, a figure that has now grown to 15 million worldwide.

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. And because prevalence grows in condensed pockets, once adults start dying the overall impact on surviving children in a community is devastating.

"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. 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." Bellamy said.

(China.org.cn December 10, 2004)

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