One Billion Children
01 February 2005

At the end of last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) brought out a sobering report. For every child in the world today who enjoys the security of home, school, healthcare and regular meals, one does not. One billion children today live in poverty, threatened by war, disease and hunger.
War deprives children of safety, health and education. Half of those killed in conflicts in the last 15 years have been children—a toll of 1.6 million—but millions more die from the indirect effects of war: disease and poverty. The death rate among under-fives rises to 13 per cent during a ‘typical’ five-year war.

The HIV/Aids epidemic also hits children disproportionately. By 2003, 15 million children had been orphaned by the disease, leading to staggering numbers of families headed by children.
One in four children lives without basic sanitation; one in five does without safe drinking water; one in eight has no access to healthcare. Over 16 per cent of under fives are undernourished, and 140 million children have never been to school.

The crisis, maintains UNICEF, is one of will. Why can’t a world which spends £712 billion a year on weapons find the £52 billion needed to combat poverty?
The challenge must be addressed on two levels. There is the structural level. There are economic, developmental and environmental issues to be addressed, and huge global injustices to be righted. On p18, Phil Evans describes one of the most secretive and scandalous of these: the price cartels that overcharge developing countries for the inputs essential to processing and manufacturing industries.

And then there is the human level: the billions of small choices made by individuals—between taking initiative and giving way to despair; between integrity and graft; between indifference and care; between hate and reaching out. Our Lead Story celebrates an African bid to build on these choices and to multiply the number of people who make them.

‘My own bread is a material question for me,’ said a Russian philosopher, quoted by the President of the World Council of Churches at a recent dialogue (see p21). ‘The bread of the other is a spiritual question.’ So is the future of all our children: whichever half of the world they belong to.
Mary Lean