Although South Asia has witnessed rapid economic growth over the last two decades, “glaring inequalities” continue to persist insofar as child rights, education and health are concerned, according to a new report released Thursday by the United Nations.
The report, released by the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, to analyze the progress made in the region over the last 25 years on issues affecting children, including education, immunization, nutrition and child mortality, found that “pervasive poverty and disparities prevent millions of children in South Asia from living in dignity, reaching their potential and making choices about their own future.”
“Everybody in South Asia has an obligation -- and the potential -- to do more to realize the rights of every single child in the region,” Karin Hulshof, regional director for UNICEF in South Asia, said in a statement.
The key findings of the report titled “Improving Children’s Lives, Transforming the Future” are:
>> South Asia is home to the largest number of stunted children in the world. “Global data indicate that 26 percent of children under five years of age have stunted growth… In South Asia, the estimated prevalence -- 38 percent -- is still too high, and comparable to that in sub-Saharan Africa,” the report stated.
>> More than a million babies die within a month of being born every year, mostly due to avoidable infections during childbirth. “There are marked disparities in neonatal mortality (death in the first 28 days of life) between countries. Figures range from six deaths per 1,000 live births in Sri Lanka and the Maldives to 42 per 1,000 in Pakistan,” according to the report. “Neonatal death is more common where health care for mothers is inadequate.”
>> Approximately 61 percent of children under the age of five -- nearly 100 million children -- are not registered at birth, resulting in millions of children being denied access to health care and education.
>> Immunization of children continues to be neglected, particularly in countries like Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Approximately 8 million children below the age of one are not immunized.
>> More than 45 percent of girls marry before the age of 18 and about 18 percent marry before age 15. “These are the highest rates in the world…child marriage is not only a rights violation in itself, it also hinders the enjoyment -- particularly for girls -- of other rights such as to protection, participation, education, health and the development of their full potential,” according to the report.
>> Gender-biased sex selection, which is widely practiced in many countries across South Asia, has skewed the sex ratio -- the ratio of females per thousand males in a population -- in the region, according to the report. The lopsided sex ratio in South Asia -- 943 to 962 girls per 1,000 boys -- is a manifestation of “deeply embedded social, economic, cultural and political factors.”