Children deserve better Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 11, 2003

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IT is always the women and children who suffer the most from war, poverty, and disease.

The latest figures on HIV/AIDS show that women and children are now bearing the brunt of the spread of HIV/AIDS in the underdeveloped world, particularly in Africa and Asia.

A USAID factoid points out that more than 13.4 million children have lost one or both parents due to HIV/AIDS, and that 95 percent of people living with the virus dwell in the developing world. By 2010, the number of children who'll be orphaned by this so-far-incurable disease is expected to increase to 25 million.

Globally, says USAID, 50 percent of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women. This percentage varies considerably by region, it says, from 58% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 24% in East Asia and the Pacific.

In 2002, 19.2 million women were living with HIV/AIDS, including 2 million newly infected.

In 2002 approximately 800,000 children under the age of 15 became infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children living with the killer disease to 3.2 million.

Of the number of children infected by HIV, mother-to-child transmission accounts for about 10 percent of infections. With this many being born with the virus, most will probably die young - long before they would have had a chance to know what life is all about.

Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS isn't the only culprit responsible for the death and suffering of so many children the world over; war is perhaps the cruelest of all the adversities faced by the world's 2.2 billion children.

According to Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, some 2 million children have been killed in the last decade as deliberate targets of war or because they have been forced to fight. Another 6 million children have been permanently disabled or seriously injured and more than 300,000 are being used in war as soldiers.

That's not all. Almost 20 million war-affected children have been forced from their homes, and have no schools and no communities to offer support to them and their families. And females of all ages are particular targets for brutality while in some countries entire families and communities of one ethnic group are targeted and systematically killed - genocide.

In places where war continues to rage, indiscriminate shootings or bombing raids by military outfits or insurgents, or suicide bombings, are all doing untold harm to our children.

In Afghanistan, for instance, what one could call irresponsible bombing by the U.S. military, though understandably desperate to out-fight terrorist groups, led a few days ago to the deaths of nine children and to the deaths of another six yesterday. In other mistaken identity bombings, many people have died in raids where wedding party guests were mistaken for terrorists.

Many children elsewhere lose their limbs to land mines left back from wars of the last 50 years.

On top of all this, poverty also takes an immeasurable toll on children. Poverty is the cause of premature deaths due to malnutrition, starvation and disease.

Many countries reportedly cannot afford to inoculate their children against common diseases, much less provide the food and shelter so necessary to life.

UNICEF estimates that more than 1.2 billion people - including 600 million children - live in poverty around the world.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says there is enough food in the world for every person to lead a healthy and productive life. "But hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry every night, while large numbers of others suffer from obesity."

Our painting of this global scenario isn't meant to depress anyone with a litany of woes or to detract from the problems that Guyana's children face. The single purpose is to sensitize our citizenry to the fact that in spite of the problems we face, Guyana is a haven compared to many other countries.

We, like other countries, have a far way to go yet to spiral out of the mold of want. That's why Guyana is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The State of the World's Children 2004, a 148-page document to be de-embargoed today by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), lists the Millennium Development Goals thus: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote general equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. All this by 2015!

The world's children certainly deserve better. They deserve a chance to live like other children in better circumstances.

They deserve protection from famine and starvation, disease and wars.

We definitely need a New Global Human Order - the one advocated by late President Cheddi Jagan - if we're going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. A New Global Human Order where the rich nations, instead of wasting their wealth on wars, could contribute those vast, squandered sums of money on improving the lives of those in need.