860 Million Children Live on the Edge

A Vatican News Agency Reports on Staggering Problem

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A staggering 860 million children live in dire straits, victims of a variety of tragedies and abuses, says a report from a Vatican agency.

Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, highlights these phenomena in a report entitled “Herod: The Killing of the Innocents Continues.”

The report, which takes into account data of international organizations, reveals that the number of child-laborers, between the ages of 5 and 14, reaches 211 million.

Of these, 171 million work in risky conditions. About 120 million of the youngsters work full time. The biggest problem is Asia.

“At the root of many forms of exploitation is the fact that in the poorest among the developing countries, more than 50 million children are not even registered when they are born,” Fides reported.

The number of children “transformed into killers to kill mercilessly — the world’s child-soldiers — reaches 300,000,” it added.

The child-soldiers are often “full of drugs to overcome fear and kill in cold blood.” They are found “on the front of forgotten wars that bloody more than 40 countries.” The majority are ages 10 to 14.

Twenty million children live and grow up in refugee camps. Over the past decade, 2 million children were among the civilian victims of conflicts.

Street children

The number of “street children” is estimated at 120 million, half of whom are in South America.

“Children of violence, of unbridled industrialization, of ‘favelas,’ of wars, of the disintegration of social and family ties, of drug and sex” abuse, they are mostly between 5 and 16 years old, reported Fides. “But there are also those who are 3 or 4 years old.”

The majority are boys. Girls are less visible because they can be forced with greater ease into domestic tasks or prostitution.

Hunger is another tragedy; it causes the death of 11 million children before age 5, the report said.

AIDS also feeds on children. In 2005 the disease killed 3 million people, including 500,000 children. There were 40 million who were seropositive, including 2.5 million under age 14.

Another scourge is the traffic in human beings, a problem of worldwide reach, which every year involves at least 1.2 million youngsters under 18.

Abused girls

An estimated 4 million girls are bought and sold for marriages, prostitution and slavery.

“The problem of arranged marriages — more than 80 million worldwide — imposed on girls under 18, has been criticized by many humanitarian organizations, also because of the risk of death of very young mothers,” Fides pointed out.

Moreover, girls represent two-thirds of minors who receive no education. The “consequence is that later they will be illiterate women: at present 600 million,” the report said.

An estimated 2 million girls are faced with ritualistic genital mutilation in childhood. In total, 120 million women worldwide have suffered this violence.

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