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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins
"The children are frozen completely - physically and emotionally."
 real 28k

Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 15:01 GMT
'Global neglect' of young condemned
Aids Orphans, Nairobi
More than 10m children have lost a parent to Aids
Failure to protect and educate the world's youngest children is sabotaging the quality of life of entire nations, says a new UN report.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) is calling for an $80bn a year fund to help children from birth to three years old.
Under 5 mortality per 1,000 live births (1999)
Sub-Saharan Africa 173
South Asia 104
Middle East/North Africa 63
East Asia and Pacific 45
Central/Eastern Europe and Baltic States 35
Industrialised countries 6

It is focusing on the very young because it says their development in the first three years sets the pattern for their future health, lifestyle and contribution to society.

Unicef's annual flagship report, "The State of the World's Children", published on Tuesday, calls on governments to invest more to reap the potential of their youngest citizens.

Hungry child
Famine is still a threat in some regions
While the report highlights poor healthcare and education systems in the developing world, Unicef also criticises many developed countries.

Carol Bellamy, Unicef's executive director, said: "Unleashing children's brain power through effective investments in health, nutrition, education, child care and basic protection is both a moral imperative and sound economics.

"The greatest tragedy is that many decision-makers simply don't know how crucial those first three years of life are."

Life expectancy (1999)
Industrialised countries 78
Latin America/Caribbean 70
Central/Eastern Europe and Baltic States 69
South Asia 62
Sub-Saharan Africa 49
Unicef statistics show that nearly 11 million children a year die from preventable diseases, while another 170 million have been left stunted because of malnutrition affecting their mothers.

In addition, more than 100 million will never see the inside of a school and one in 10 has a disability.

The agency highlighted the three challenges which threaten children in many areas of the world - poverty, conflict and HIV/Aids.

In some African countries, more than 10% of children under 15 are now orphans. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 70% of the world's HIV-infected people.

Poverty is not a problem confined to developing countries, says the report, which points out that approximately 3m people in 15 EU countries lack proper housing, and 17% of all US children grow up in households struggling to meet basic nutritional needs.

Worldwide, more than 20 million children have been displaced from their homes by conflicts.

Adult Literacy Rate (1995-9)
Central/Eastern Europe and Baltic States 97%
Industrialised countries 96%
Middle East/North Africa 65%
South Asia 56%
Sub-Saharan Africa 54%
Angela Davis, Unicef's director of communications, told BBC News Online: "It's unlikely many of these are receiving any education at all, and many will be severely traumatised - the prospects for them are very grim."

The UN has set a target of 0.7% of developed countries GDP to be spent on foreign aid. While some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, are making great strides towards this target, in the UK contributions still stand at 0.3%.

Ms Davis said: "The $80bn we are asking for is a huge number, but that's what is needed to provide proper sanitation, education, nutrition for mothers and other basic services for children.

"We are focusing on this age group because it is the one that is always being left out.

"Governments must realise that for every 1 they spend, they could save 7 in return in reduced expenditure later on."

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See also:

02 Nov 99 | Health
Drive to cut maternal deaths
08 Jun 00 | Health
Aids 'dates from 1930s'
11 Jul 00 | Health
Women 'may miss out on HIV drugs'
28 Nov 00 | Health
Russia's Aids catastrophe growing
12 Dec 00 | World
Children deserve a chance
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