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UN Conference Addresses Plight of Children in East Asia, Pacific


A United Nations conference in Cambodia has called on countries in East Asia and the Pacific to tackle the growing economic inequities that affect the welfare of millions of their children.

Carol Bellamy, head of the United Nations Children's' Fund, told delegates that children in East Asia and the Pacific were facing inequities in health and education amid a widening social and economic divide in the region.

Ms. Bellamy, who opened the three-day conference in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap on Wednesday, urged governments in the region to do more to tackle such inequity. She says policy shortfalls have lead to the widening disparities for children within the region.

"We've seen in some cases reductions in expenditures for health and education and in other areas improvements," she said. "We've seen instability in some parts of this region. We've seen the impact of HIV and AIDS - it doesn't fall evenly across the region, more heavily in some parts of countries than others."

The UNICEF chief said that while there has been some progress in child development in the region over the past decade, major challenges remain. These include reducing poverty, slowing infant mortality rates, tackling human trafficking, and promoting gender equality through education.

Ms. Bellamy called for strong, concerted and unified action to ensure the disparities did not undermine the gains. She also urged governments to target impoverished communities through public spending on health and education.

Lincoln Chen, a public health expert at Harvard University, says East Asia has made progress in public health. But he adds that governments in the region have not done enough to boost child development.

"The region as a whole severely under-invests in protecting and advancing children's health, well-being and rights," he said. "It's actually a region with enormous economic capacity, but I think among the lowest in the world in terms of public investment in these core children's functions."

Cambodia, which relies heavily on foreign donors for its annual budget, faces a struggle improving its education and health services. The government has been criticized in the past for not allocating sufficient funds to the two sectors.

Some 63,000 Cambodian children die each year from preventable causes such as malnutrition and diarrhea.

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