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Starving child in Ethiopia

According to Unicef, the governments of the world are failing to look after children. (ABC TV)

Govts accused of failing to deliver on children's rights

More than one billion children, half of the world's population of children, suffer from poverty, violent conflict and the scourge of AIDS, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in its annual report.

The rights of children to a healthy and protected upbringing, as laid out in the widely-adopted 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, were regularly imperiled, due in part to the failure of governments to carry out human rights and economic reforms, UNICEF said.

"When half the world's children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we've failed to deliver on the promise of childhood," UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said at the report launch in London.

"Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood," she said.

The aid organisation, the world leader helping children, worked with researchers from Britain's London School of Economics and Bristol University to compile statistics which paint a dire portrait of youth at risk in much of the world.

Some 640 million children lack adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health care services and 140 million - mostly girls - have never been to school, they found.

More seriously, at last 700 million children suffered from more than one form of "severe deprivation", which also includes a lack of access to information and sanitation, they said.

The 10th annual UNICEF report, a comprehensive look at minors across all continents, said war and HIV/AIDS had destroyed networks that normally protected children and at times turned them into direct targets.

Nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in war since 1990 have been children, according to the report.

Karin Landgren, the head of UNICEF's child protection program, said that while six million children had been permanently injured in conflict many more carried "scars less visible" from rape, loss and overall trauma.

"So many of the systems children normally rely on to keep them safe break down", she said in a video on the report's website.

The report cited the hostage-taking of school children in Beslan, Russia in September as an example of minors being made into targets in international conflicts.

Peter Mcdermott, the head of UNICEF's HIV/AIDS program, called the epidemic's impact on children "huge and getting worse. In fact, the worst is yet to come."

Fifteen million of them have been orphaned - four-fifths of those in sub-Saharan Africa - by the incurable disease.

Millions were transformed into care providers for sick parents and siblings, he said.

The report, The State of the World's Children 2005, also pointed out that children in rich countries were victims of rising poverty rates, as well.

It said that in 11 of 15 industrialised nations for which data was available, the proportion of children living in low-income households over the last decade had risen.

This list included Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, where poverty was raised to 16.6 per cent of all children in the late 1990s and early 2000s from 14.0 per cent a decade earlier.

US child poverty rates had fallen but still were at 21.9 per cent, it said.

UNICEF criticised governments for failing to work toward the UN's Millennium Development Goals which notably committed countries to reducing their mortality rate for children under five by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015.

Instead, 29,000 children under five die each day, largely from preventable diseases, and sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet republics will likely not reach the millennium goals, the report said.


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