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BANGKOK, Thailand (May 25, 2001 - PINA Nius Online, 25 May 2001)--Children and adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific are generally optimistic about the future, according to the results of a United Nations Children¹s Fund (UNICEF) survey. But many appear woefully unprepared to deal with the rapidly growing threat of HIV/AIDS in the region.

The survey, Speaking Out! Voices of Children and Adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific, asked questions of approximately 10,000 children and adolescents 9-17 years old in 17 countries and territories. The sample is representative of some 300 million young people in the 9-17 age group, and the survey is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive hearing of the views of young people ever carried out in the region.

The UNICEF survey found that about 80 percent of respondents believe their lives will be better that that of their parents, while some 74 percent think life in their communities will be better in the future than it is now.

Asked about their level of knowledge on HIV/AIDS, 60 percent of those 9-13 years old and 25 percent in the 14-17 age group say they know "absolutely nothing" or "only the name." In addition, 70 percent of those 9-13 and 35 percent of 14-17 years old says they are ignorant about sexual relationships. The number of 14-17 year olds who say they lack even basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS translates into 33 million across the region.

Other questions related to HIV/AIDS were asked only of the older age group.

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents correctly identify unprotected sexual intercourse as a major route of HIV/AIDS transmission, but only 41 percent say they know what a condom is.

Some 2.4 million people are already infected with HIV/AIDS in East Asia and the Pacific, and it is projected that level of new infections will increase dramatically in the region over the coming years.

"The results of this survey should serve as a wake up call to the governments and societies in this region on how much more needs to be done to educate young people, especially about HIV and AIDS," said UNICEF’s Mehr Khan, Regional Director of its East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

"AIDS knows no borders and no country can consider itself immune. If this region is to avoid the fate of sub-Saharan Africa, where the spread of the epidemic has been truly catastrophic, we need decisive and urgent action."

The survey employed face-to-face interviews with young people in their homes, but without the presence of parents or other third parties that might influence their responses. The young people interviewed were a representative sample of the 9-17 year old population in each country and territory in terms of age, gender, area (urban/rural) and socio-economic status. Questions focused on their knowledge about children’s rights, HIV/AIDS and other issues as well as their perceptions and opinions on family life, school and society in general. The survey has an overall average sampling error of plus or minus (+/-) 1.2 percent.

Highlights of the survey’s results were presented to the Fifth Ministerial Consultation in East Asia and the Pacific on Shaping the Future for Children.

Another major focus of the survey was young people’s knowledge of rights and their perception of whether those rights are being respected. Under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by all of the region’s countries, governments are required to use all the means at their disposal to uphold the rights and safeguard the well being of children.

The survey found that although 61 percent of the respondents say children have rights like adults, only one in five claims to know "a lot" about those rights. The 39 percent of respondents who answer "no" or "do not know" to the question of whether children have rights, represents some 117 million children and adolescents across the region.

In addition, more than 20 percent of the respondents believe their rights to information, freedom to express ideas and opinions, and not to be hurt or mistreated are not respected in their countries. Asked to spontaneously identify their rights, the right to education was named by 51 percent of respondents, the right to freedom of expression by 32 percent, and the right not to be hurt or mistreated by 21 percent.

A little over 50 percent of those surveyed report being happy "most of the time," while 47 percent say they are happy sometimes. The large majority of respondents report good relationships with their parents, and say the main values and principles they are taught at home -- to respect others, tell the truth, help others and not to steal -- are applied in their daily lives.

However, 41 percent of respondents say that when a decision that concerns them is made at home, their own opinions and feelings are not adequately taken into consideration.

More than half of the children and adolescents say there is "screaming" in their homes, while 14 percent report that there is often "hitting." Some 23 percent say that when they misbehave their parents beat them.

One in 10 respondents report being the victim of a robbery, while 29 percent say it is "sometimes unsafe" or "always unsafe" at night in their community, neighborhood or city.

Nearly 40 percent of the respondents report that they have friends who have smoked cigarettes, and that 20 percent of these friends have become "addicted" to smoking.

About one quarter of respondents say they have friends who have tried alcohol, and that 7 percent of these are addicted. In addition, 6 percent say they have witnessed friends using illegal drugs, while 4 percent have seen friends sniffing glue or other chemicals.

A little over half of those surveyed believe that some children in their country are treated differently or are not well accepted compared with other children, while 24 percent say they themselves are treated differently or not well accepted.

The survey was supported by UNICEF Country Offices in East Asia and the Pacific; the Australian Committee for UNICEF; the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF; the Korean Committee for UNICEF; and UNAIDS.

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