Friday, December 10, 2004


December 10, 2004
Unicef Report Says Children in Deprivation Reach a Billion

More than a billion children - over half the children in the world - suffer extreme deprivation because of war, H.I.V./AIDS or poverty, according to a report released yesterday by the United Nations Children's Fund.

While there have been gains in reducing the death rates of young children and in increasing the number of children in school, the report said that some of the progress made over the past decade and a half had been offset by the toll taken by AIDS and H.I.V., the virus that causes it, and wars, particularly the 55 civil wars since 1990.

The report said that nearly half the estimated 3.6 million people killed in wars since 1990 were children, reflecting the fact that civilians increasingly have become the victims in contemporary conflicts.

"There is rarely a justification for war that mitigates the suffering and loss of war," Carol Bellamy, executive director of Unicef, said at a news conference in London. "That goes for all of today's wars, whoever is behind them and for whatever stated reasons."

Ms. Bellamy, who has headed Unicef for a decade, said she had been struck in her travels by the many ways conflicts affected the lives of children - in Ugandan villages where they are abducted by rebels; in Congo, where they are systematically raped as a weapon of war; and in Iraq, where school enrollment has risen, but so has child malnutrition.

Along with war, AIDS and H.I.V. are destroying millions of childhoods, especially in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, the report said. More than two million children worldwide have been infected, mostly during pregnancy, birth or through breast-feeding. Almost half a million children died of AIDS last year, it said.

And from 2001 to 2003, the number of children orphaned by AIDS soared from 11.5 million to 15 million, 80 percent of them in Africa. AIDS is also killing teachers and nurses who care for stricken children.

The report, "Childhood Under Threat," broadly defined child poverty through various forms of deprivation: a lack of food, health care, education, clean water or decent housing, among others.

Unicef commissioned the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics to measure the extent of these deprivations in developing countries. The researchers' findings showed that one in six children in developing countries was severely hungry, one in seven had no health care, one in five had no access to safe water and one in three had no toilet at home.

Of the world's estimated 2.2 billion children, over 640 million lived in homes with mud floors or in extreme overcrowded conditions. More than 120 million did not attend primary school, most of them girls. More than 29,000 children died every day of mostly preventable causes. More than 2 million children were employed in the sex industry, while 1.2 million were trafficked.

The report also noted that child poverty had worsened in a number of developed countries, roughly over the past decade, among them Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. And while the United States still had a child poverty rate substantially higher than any of those European countries - at 21.9 percent - its rate had fallen from 24.3 percent.

The report said that global military spending was $956 billion, while the cost of effectively combating poverty would be $40 to $70 billion.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company