'Investment in children key to reducing poverty'

NEW DELHI, JULY 12. ``The future of a nation can be seen through the eyes of its children'', Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who dreamt of a prosperous, modern India, had said. Over five decades later, India holds the ``highest number of polio cases, HIV/AIDS cases, malnourished children and child labourers in the world.''

A `cry shame' situation for a country which stands highlighted in the UNICEF's annual global publication - ``Progress of Nations (PON)-2000'' launched here today by the Deputy-Director, UNICEF India, Dr. Erma Manoncourt.

Over the past eight years, the UNICEF has been recording the world's progress toward the fulfillment of children's rights - ranking nations not according to their military or economic strength but according to the well-being of their children.

This year's report focusses on four key issues - it records the devastating speed with which HIV/AIDS has become the greatest catastrophe across the world; the heavy toll which malnutrition takes on the physical and mental development of children; successful initiatives and challenges of immunisation programme; and the unacceptable forms of exploitation of child labour.

Each of these issues are relevant to India as it reportedly hosts the highest incidence in each category. In other words, the report is a painful reminder for the country as to whether children lost among the living can hope to touch the moral radar of a world that seems to have forgotten them. The report through its four essays makes a case for early investment in children as a key to reducing poverty and other ills.

Releasing the report, Dr. Manoncourt hoped, ``the wealth of information contained will sensitise the world community for a better performance.'' Though India had progressed during the past few years, what was good for children had not mandatorily become a human development priority for everyone, she said.

Armed with the finding that HIV/AIDS infects six people under 25 years every minute, the report calls for a ``full-blown war of liberation'' with young people in the forefront. ``If nations hope to defeat the disease, which is not curable but preventable, they must commit to the largest mobilisation of resources in history,'' it says. While there is an estimated 3.7 million HIV/AIDS- infected population in India, about 50 per cent of all new infections is now reported to be taking place among youths below 25 years.

The last chapter on ``the lost children'' examines the urban and rural education gaps in education, challenges facing orphans, lack of access to clean water and sanitation and the decline in official development assistance. It talks of millions of children, who are barely heard and hardly seen and are trapped by sexual exploitation, serve as child soldiers and bonded labourers in factories and farms and are involved in trafficking and other exploitative situations. How many of them are found in India - is again a pertinent question asked.