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The State Of The World's Children

By Jeremy Lovell

10 December,2004

Read The Full Report Here

Political leaders the world over are failing the most vulnerable of their people -- children, the U.N. child rights organization UNICEF said on Thursday.

Although child mortality rates had fallen by one-fifth in the past decade, they remain far too high due to a combination of grinding poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and widespread civil wars -- all either caused or neglected by national leaders.

"It is the failure of leadership. It has become clearer year after year ... that it is the failure not just in the poorest countries but some of the richest countries too," UNICEF head Carol Bellamy told Reuters in an interview.

"Whether it is ... development assistance or debt or aid, these are also challenges for the developed world," she said.

In its annual State of the World's Children report "Childhood Under Threat" published on Thursday, UNICEF said more than one billion of the world's two billion children were being denied access to one or more basic services.

Globally, 640 million children had no adequate shelter, 500 million had no sanitation, 400 million had no access to safe water, 270 million had no access to health care services, 140 million had never been to school and 90 million were starving.

"To not understand the underlying causes of why children die today or why childhood is robbed from children today would be in my view a moral failure," Bellamy said.

"It is not a matter of saying 'if only we knew what to do'," she said. "We know what to do. The challenge is to do it."

UNICEF -- which has been accused by some of focusing on rights rather than simple child survival -- published a series of tables listing every country in the world and comparing it according to child mortality, poverty, education, HIV/AIDS, health and nutrition. (See

On under-five child mortality, for example, Sierra Leone came out as the worst in the world with 284 deaths per 1,000, while Sweden and Singapore were the best at just three.

"We are providing the data that ought to be used by everyone possible in advocating that there ought to be more political leadership," Bellamy said.
The report also noted that while many countries had made great progress in reducing child mortality, for a range of reasons several including Iraq, Kenya and Zimbabwe had seen it rise sharply since 1990.

Other statistics also made bitter reading at the start of the 21st century.

According to UNICEF there are now 37.8 million people worldwide under the age of 50 carrying HIV/AIDS, of whom 25 million or two-thirds are in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, of the 15 million AIDS orphans globally, 12.3 million or 82 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa.

But Bellamy cautioned that believing the entire problem was confined to Africa would be a major mistake.

"HIV/AIDS is not limited to Africa. In fact the number of people infected may be as great in Asia as in sub-Saharan Africa," she said.

Bellamy, who steps down in 2005 after a decade at the helm of UNICEF, said she was proud to be leaving behind her an organization at the height of its powers.

But with the certainty that the Millennium Development Goals which include halving poverty by 2015 are likely to be missed by a large margin, now was no time to rest on its laurels.

"We know already that on child mortality alone 98 countries will not reach it under present circumstances," she said. "The pressure needs to be put on now if there is going to be an acceleration to get even close to some of these goals in 2015."

"Our report is not going to change everything. But there has to be a drumbeat, and we want to be a part of that," she added.

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.











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