Around 18 million African children are to lose one or both parents to the spreading HIV/AIDS epidemic in the continent in the coming five years, a UN report disclosed Wednesday.
The United Nations Children's Fund's report launched in Addis Ababa on the "state of the World's children 2005" revealed the majority of the 18 million children will be in sub-Saharan African countries, including Ethiopia.
"The loss of a parent implies more than just the disappearance of a caregiver. It pervades every aspect of a child's life. Their emotional well-being, physical security, mental development and overall health," the UN said.
As HIV/AIDS often exacerbates poverty, said the report, it places children at an increased risk of engaging in hazardous labor and exploitation.
The report also indicated that around 15 million children under the age of 18 had been orphaned by the pandemic by the end of 2003.
"Eight out of 10 of these children live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unless action is taken, swiftly and decisively, to stem the tidal wave of infection and loss, it is estimated that by 2010 over 18 million African children will have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS," the UN said.
"Respecting the rights of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS must be an international priority for the next two decades. In order to do this, action must be taken on several fronts," the report added.
Every day, the report said, about 1,700 children become infected with HIV/AIDS while there are an estimated 2.1 million children worldwide under 15 currently live with HIV.
Preventing HIV infection in women of reproductive age is therefore the most effective way to decrease the number of young children infected with HIV, according to the UN.
(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2005)