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Poverty, war, AIDS force 100 million children to grow up alone, UNICEF says
"Be it in the West or the developing world, we are confronting grave problems in the violation of children's rights," Carol Bellamy, head of UNICEF, said Wednesday. "We want to put a face on this crisis, rather than just have people feel sorry for the little children."
The UN organization is calling for governments and international organizations to help poorer countries invest more in health and education as part of a campaign to protect those at risk of missing childhood.
Whether orphaned by disease, abused by adults or stolen for profit, the world's children are increasingly growing up without the love and security of a family and outside the protection of the state -- and are denied the basic rights due to any child, the organization says.
Campaign highlights plight of children
To draw attention to the plight of children, UNICEF'S UK Committee on Wednesday launched an 18-month campaign, Growing Up Alone: the hidden cost of disease, poverty and war.
The first part of the campaign was the publication of a report on the hidden cost of poverty. Two more reports, on the effects on children of HIV/AIDS and war, will be published by UNICEF during the next 18 months.
The report released Wednesday says poverty is the major cause of children facing a future alone.
"It is estimated there are more than 3 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day," Bellamy said. "Half of these are children and half of those are living on less than $1 a day."
Such poverty takes a toll on children's health and ability to attend school, Bellamy said. These children often become ones who are most exploited, she said.
Examples cited by the UNICEF UK committee's report include a baby abandoned on a doorstep; a child lost after the parents have fled their home; a girl sent to perform menial work in someone else's household; a boy with a one-way ticket into town; a teenager in detention.
Such children are regularly found in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, the report said.
"Their aloneness is a child rights emergency every bit as serious as the neglect, abandonment and exploitation which children growing up alone frequently experience," the report said.
"It is just as common and just as pernicious, although often obscured by atrocities and other gross abuses of child rights that attract instant attention."
AIDS killed 2 million in 1998
On the effects of AIDS on children, Bellamy said, "AIDS is turning sub-Saharan Africa into a killing field." She said war had killed 200,000 people in the region in 1998, while AIDS had claimed 2 million lives the same year.
The UN report said that 13 million children would be orphaned by the end of this year as a result of AIDS.
"When AIDS strikes a family breadwinner, his or her income dries up and the family quickly slides into poverty as they struggle to pay for medicines and health care," the report said.
A downward economic spiral sets in, the report said, as children are forced to leave school to support the family. Children affected by AIDS not only have to deal with the loss of their parents to the disease, but also must cope with the trauma of social isolation -- because of the fear and stigma that surrounds the disease, the report said.
"Many children are bringing up younger brothers and sisters alone, without support and sadly many of them will also become ill," the report said.
Effects of war on the young
An estimated 300,000 children are engaged as child soldiers, Bellamy said, adding that girls are often employed as sex slaves.
"The children, even when they're not participating as soldiers, are moved on or forced from their communities," Bellamy said. "It has enormous psychological as well as physical impact on children."
The UNICEF UK committee said that in the 1990s 1 million children were separated from their families because of war.
In Afghanistan, for example, children are "witnesses to horrors we don't want to talk about," said Louis-Georges Arsenault, the UNICEF representative for Afghanistan.
"It will be a long time before we can support these children, before they can have some sort of normal life," Arsenault added.
Correspondent Margaret Lowrie and Reuters contributed to this report.
UNICEF says Indonesia on verge of creating 'lost generation'
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
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