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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2967

Hiroshima Forum to Focus on Children Under Siege

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

United Nations, 12 February, (IPS) : - The world's 2.2 billion children are under siege -- battling poverty, hunger, military conscription, sexual abuse, labour exploitation and HIV/AIDS, according to the United Nations.

The world body estimates that over 600 million children live in absolute poverty worldwide; about 218 million suffer the worst forms of child labour; over 2.5 million are infected with HIV/AIDS; and more than 250,000 to 300,000 are forcibly pressed into military service as soldiers.

The U.N. children's agency UNICEF says that nearly half the estimated 3.6 million people killed in military conflicts since 1990 were children.

"Despite continuing efforts by governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and humanitarian organisations at all levels, too many children still suffer from poverty/environmental degradation, exploitation, violence and diseases," says Samuel Koo, South Korea's ambassador for cultural cooperation, and a former senior official who served both with the United Nations and with UNICEF.

He points out that children continue to be denied even their basic rights enshrined in the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the first legally binding international instrument that recognises the human rights of children worldwide.

"Progress, where it is made, is often too slow and too little," says Koo, who is also chairman of the organising committee for an upcoming international forum on children, hosted by the Tokyo-based Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), established by the Arigatou Foundation of Japan.

The theme of the forum, which will take place in Hiroshima May 24-26, is "Learning to Share: Values, Action, Hope". The Hiroshima forum is the third in a series, the first being held in Tokyo in May 2000, and the second in Geneva in May 2004.

"The organisers of the Forum are convinced that the time has come for the world's religious institutions and all those who profess religious faith to come forward and join hands in this global fight to alleviate the suffering of children and promote their well-being," Koo told IPS.

He said the objective is to raise awareness of the dire problems facing children everywhere, and call for concerted action by people of faith and religious entities at the grassroots level.

"The aim is to help ease the plight of children and marshal greater support from civic and government authorities, as well as donor nations and international organisations," he added.

The Forum will launch a worldwide initiative promoting ethics education by introducing a new manual, provisionally titled "Learning to Live Together", for use by teachers and youth leaders around the world.

A product of two years of research by a select group of theologians representing different religions, the manual employs a new interfaith learning process to empower children and young people to develop a strong sense of ethics, Koo pointed out.

"It is designed to help the young to better understand and respect people from other cultures and religions and nurture a sense of global community and non-violent behaviours and to empower children to become agents of social change," he noted.

According to GNRC, despite unprecedented economic prosperity, mostly in northern industrialised countries and related to rapid globalisation, more children are being born into poverty than ever before.

Producing an array of statistics, it says that 130 million school-age children, more than two-thirds of them girls, are growing up in the developing world deprived of the right to education, which thereby limits their possibilities to assume their chosen roles in society.

Since its founding in May 2000, GNRC has emerged as an important global alliance of religious organisations and people of faith committed to interfaith dialogue and action aimed at improving the lives of children.

As in its two previous Forums in Tokyo and Geneva, the Hiroshima Forum will provide another occasion for GNRC members to evaluate progress, share best practices and chart new courses of action to alleviate the suffering of children.

According to Koo, the U.N. special session on children, held in New York in 2002, provided an important milestone in furthering the development of GNRC and its advocacy initiatives.

Attended by over 180 world leaders, the special session adopted a plan of action titled "A World Fit for Children," which included 21 goals and targets for the next decade.

The four key priorities were: ensuring healthy lives for all children; providing quality education for all; protecting children against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS.

The agenda at the upcoming Hiroshima forum includes: "the ethical imperative to end violence against children; the ethical imperative to ensure that no child lives in poverty; and the ethical imperative to protect the earth."

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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