Aids plays havoc with Africa's children
The UN chief has challenged world leaders to act on youth poverty
Special report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/aids/
Wednesday June 6, 2001
HIV/Aids has reached "catastrophic" proportions and is unravelling
decades of gains in child survival and development, especially in
sub-Saharan Africa, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, warns in a
The social profile of the Aids pandemic has been gradually shifting,
the report warns, with the disease increasingly affecting the young,
poor and illiterate. Above all, its victims are adolescent girls.
Elsewhere, too, deepening poverty and "increasingly obscene dispari-
ties" shame commitments made by the world community at a summit a
decade ago to improve children's lives across the world, the report
In a major study prepared by Unicef for a UN special session on chil-
dren in September which will bring dozens of heads of state to New
York, Mr Annan challenges them to find it "unacceptable that 600m
children in developing countries have to struggle to survive on less
than $1 a day".
But children with deep problems caused essentially by poverty are not
only in the developing countries; in the world's richest countries,
one in six children - 47m - live below the poverty line, he says.
At the world summit for children in 1990, 71 heads of state and gov-
ernment made a firm commitment to protect children and put their in-
terests first. But as with the founding of the UN itself, where the
exhilarating vision was nothing less than to save succeeding genera-
tions from war and to promote human rights and social progress, the
goals of a better future for children have proved elusive.
The report shows that there have been dramatic improvements in some
areas in the last 10 years. Infant mortality is down by one-third in
63 countries and by one-fifth in 100 countries. The number of deaths
of under-fives from diarrhoeal diseases has been halved, saving 1m
Polio cases have been reduced by 99%, and 90m infants have been pro-
tected from iodine deficiency disorders which are the major cause of
However, 10m children still die every year from often readily pre-
ventable causes, an estimated 150m are malnourished and more than
100m are out of school - 60% of them girls.
Rising numbers of children are also the victims of abuse, neglect and
exploitation. Sexual abuse occurs in the home, in communities and
across societies. But worst of all, it is commercialised.
"The worst forms of exploitation include prostitution and child slav-
ery, often in the guise of household domestic work. The trafficking
of children for sexual exploitation has reached alarming levels," the
report states. As many as 30m children are victimised by traffickers,
largely with impunity.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that 250m children
work, with 50m-60m of them "engaged in intolerable forms of labour".
These children work in plantations, factories and homes, often with
no contact with their families, no shelter and no access to educa-
Children are more vulnerable then ever in the armed conflicts which
ravage parts of Angola, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Colombia.
The rapid spread of small arms and light weapons facilitate the re-
cruitment of child soldiers. Children, too, are the primary victims
Yet breaking the endless cycle of global poverty which powers these
wars and which denies children health, education, and security, is
achievable, Mr Annan says. "The knowledge, the resources and the
strategies already exist," the report says. It points unequivocally
to the cause of the failure.
"The gulf between rich and poor countries continues to widen - be-
tween 1960 and 1995, the disparity in per capita income between in-
dustrialised and developing countries has more than tripled. Never in
history have we seen such numbers. And never have we seen overall aid
to the world's neediest countries fall to levels as low as they have
in recent years.
"The world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals of the
world summit for children, not because they were too ambitious or
were technically beyond reach. It has fallen short largely because of
The decline in aid was steepest for the poorest countries, and that
given for basic social services remained extremely low - less than
11% of all aid. The report notes acidly that this is "hard to under-
stand, given the international consensus on the benefits of investing
The report's data on Africa over the last decade is chilling: the al-
ready minimal incomes fell further, immunisation coverage decreased,
the total number of malnourished children increased and the weakness
of public health systems was reflected in the resurgence of major
child-killers such as malaria and cholera.
Less than half of children under one are fully immunised against dip-
htheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Forty per cent of the world's
children out of school are Africans, and they are increasingly vul-
nerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse.
Some 95% of Aids orphans live in Africa. "Faced with social stigma,
isolation and discrimination, and deprived of basic care and finan-
cial resources, Aids orphans are less likely to be immunised, more
likely to be malnourished, less likely to go to school and more vul-
nerable to abuse and exploitation."
Top of the agenda in New York in September will be a repeat of Mr An-
nan's millennium demand for a "first call" for the children of Af-
rica. Among the countries whose heads of state or government are com-
mitted to being at the meeting are France, Canada, Algeria, Mexico,
Mozambique and South Korea.
The meeting will lean on the moral authority of Nelson Mandela and
his wife, Graca Machel, who have taken on a special role as interna-
tional advocates for children.
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
[reproduced under 'fair use' by C. Labadie
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