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UNICEF Sounds Alert for Asian Children at Risk

The United Nations warns that Asian governments are failing millions of children, leaving many trapped in the sex trade, poorly fed, and with little hope for decent education. The report comes at the start of a regional conference to study child welfare in Asia.

As officials from more than 20 Asian countries gathered on Indonesi'a Bali Island, the U.N. childrens fund UNICEF issued a report saying many Asian governments fail their children.

The UNICEF report says more than half a million children in the region have lost at least one parent to AIDS, a figure that is expected to double in the next three years. Between 300,000 and 400,000 children are trapped in the region's sex industry. The report says that in many parts of Asia, more than a quarter of the children are underweight, a rate that is as almost as high as sub-Saharan Africa. Officials say the Bali conference is an important way to gauge how governments are improving the welfare of children. The three day international conference is the first to address the issue of children's welfare since a special U.N. session two years ago in New York. "Without these [meetings] it would be very difficult to gauge the progress and possibly find out what some of the problems are in some of the major areas, which are not easy to solve like the HIV/AIDS epidemic and child-trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes, two of the major issues which many countries in the region are facing," said UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick. He said it is not just developing nations that fail children. Children in wealthy nations also live in need, he said. "There is a huge amount of child poverty still in the United States of America and in Australia and the United Kingdom. So it is never about how much money a government has," stressed the UNICEF spokesman. "It is about their commitment and their political will and vision to put that money into basic social services, into education, into all those things will which will generate a huge return on that investment if they just do it.'

At the end of the conference, UNICEF says it expects to announce the "Bali consensus" - an agenda for helping the region's children during the next several years.