UNICEF REPORTS ON PACIFIC IN "STATE OF THE WORLD'S CHILDREN 2000"

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By Erin Phelan Special to Pacific Islands Report

SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 14, 1999 – PINA Nius Online)---Try as they might, Pacific Island Countries haven't done enough for children this past decade.

Yesterday UNICEF International launched its year-end report, The State of the World's Children 2000. The message delivered at the official launch by Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, was that despite great strides made for children this century, we are entering the new millennium with many promises unfulfilled.

"If we don't seize the start of the new millennium to solve the terrifying plight faced by our children, then we are guilty of contributing to their suffering and to the wholesale abuse of their rights. The choice is ours," Ms. Bellamy said during a press conference in Berlin, Germany.

The State of the World's Children 2000 provides statistical evidence that though actions taken by UNICEF, government and non-governmental initiatives have improved the lives of the region's children, there is still much work to be done.

The Pacific was recognized by UNICEF for its achievements during the Pacific Summit for Children, held in Fiji in November 1999. Government, non-governmental and community leaders involved in children's rights from 13 Pacific Island Countries met for one-week to discuss strategies for UNICEF for the upcoming year.

Kul Gautam, UNICEF regional director for East Asia and Pacific, in his keynote address told the participants that the time for action is now: "Where we have succeeded, we should rejoice and sustain. Where we haven't succeeded we should redouble our efforts."

According to the State of the World's Children 2000, where Pacific Island countries have succeeded is in basic education, health and sanitary conditions and in strengthening national bodies that deal with children's rights.

Presently, with the exception of the Solomon Islands, access to basic primary education has achieved its 80 percent objective. The region is about to be declared polio free by the World Health Organizations, and a mass vaccination campaign has resulted in no measles cases this year. Every country in the Pacific has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and many have formed a national coordinating body to advance children's rights and issues through government and non-governmental measures.

Where Pacific Island Countries must redouble efforts is in quality of education, maternity issues, early childhood development, child protection and work with adolescents.

Attendance in secondary schools drops dramatically in virtually all Pacific Island countries, and reasons for this must be researched. Few governments are committed to early childhood education, despite extensive research that shows personal development requires solid foundations set in the first few years of a child's life.

Maternal mortality rates are still high in the Pacific. On average, every day three Pacific Island women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth - which adds up to over 1,100 women per year. Often this is the result of inaccessible medical care.

In child protection issues, the threat of pedophilia and Internet trafficking of children is on the rise. The recent high profile Mark Mutch case in Fiji demonstrated how problems familiar in Asia are seeping into the Pacific. Governments must be held accountable for ensuring all children's human rights are respected, by establishing and enforcing legislation.

HIV, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are under-reported throughout the region, but the available statistics are alarming and cause a huge threat to children and youth. The first HIV case in the Pacific was reported in 1984, and since then more than 2,000 HIV infections have been reported. However, these figures are obtained from official ministries of health, an indication that the numbers are much higher.

AIDS is currently the number one cause of death at the Port Moresby General Hospital. Leaving children vulnerable to the spread of sexually transmitted infections is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. According to UNICEF, sexual education must be incorporated into curriculums throughout Pacific Island primary and secondary schools.

The State of the World's Children is a call to governments around the world to commit time and resources to children. As Kul Gautam said in his closing address - referring to the success stories he had heard - at the Pacific Summit for Children, "Even in the relaxed environment of the Pacific, great things can be done."

Children under age 15 currently make up 40 percent of the Pacific population. Whether greater things can be done for children remains to be determined by Pacific Island governments and leaders.

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