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Asian Governments Pledge Child Welfare Improvements - 2003-05-07

Asian governments have pledged to improve the welfare of the region's children. The move comes after the United Nations Children's Fund warned that Asian and Pacific governments were failing their children.

Officials say the Bali Consensus was adopted unanimously at the end of a three-day meeting in Indonesia organized by the United Nations Children's Fund.

The agreement calls for regional governments to achieve new goals in improving child welfare, including fighting the sexual exploitation of children, and raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Delegates from more than 20 Asian countries signed the agreement.

UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick says the conference on the island of Bali also addressed basic issues such as nutrition and education.

"If more countries could understand that investing in education, like abolishing school fees, is one of the best investments that country can ever make in terms of the future, then we'd all be a lot better off," said Mr. McCormick."

The meeting was the first large conference on children to take place since a special session of the United Nations in New York addressed the issue of child welfare two years ago.

The Bali Consensus is not legally binding. But UNICEF officials hope governments keep their commitment to help children as part of efforts to lift living standards as a whole. Another regional conference to gauge how well the agreement has been implemented is expected to be held in two years.

At the start of the conference, UNICEF released a report offering some sobering statistics.

More than four percent of children in the Asia-Pacific region die before they reach the age of five, many from treatable conditions such as diarrhea. UNICEF hopes to cut that figure to below two percent in the next 10 years.

As many as 400,000 children are trapped in the region's sex industry. More than a half-million children in the region have lost at least one parent to AIDS, a figure that is expected to nearly double in the next three years.