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UNICEF Warns Asian Countries Failing Their Children - 2003-05-05

The United Nations warns that Asian governments are failing millions of children, leaving many trapped in the sex trade, poorly fed and with little hope for decent education. The somber report comes at the start of a regional conference to study child welfare in Asia.

As officials from more than 20 Asian countries gathered Monday on the Indonesian island of Bali, the United Nations Children Fund issued a report saying many Asian governments fail their children.

The UNICEF report offers sobering statistics: more than half a million children in the region have lost at least one parent to AIDS, a figure that is expected to double in the next three years. Between 300,000 and 400,000 children are trapped in the region's sex industry.

The report says that in much of Asia, 28 percent of the children are underweight, a rate that is as almost as high as sub-Saharan Africa.

Officials say the Bali conference is an important way to gauge how governments are improving the welfare of children. The three-day conference is the first since a special session of the United Nations in New York addressed the issue of children's welfare two years ago.

A UNICEF spokesman, Patrick McCormick, says "and without these it would be very difficult to gauge the progress and possibly find out what some of the problems are in some of the major areas, which are not easy to solve like the HIV/Aids epidemic and child-trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes, two of the major issues which many countries in the region are facing."

Mr. McCormick says it is not just developing nations that fail children. He says children in many wealthy nations also live in need. "There's a huge amount of child poverty still in the United States of America and in Australia and the UK," he says. "So it's never about how much money a government has… It's about their commitment and their political will and vision to put that money into basic social services, into education, into all those things will which will generate a huge return on that investment if they just do it."

At the end of the conference, Unicef says it expects to announce the "Bali consensus", an agenda for helping the region's children over the next several years.