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Asean Affairs  24 September  2015




UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) in its September 2015 Report states that more than a quarter of a billion (yes billion) children under the age of 5 - to be precise, 236,000,000,000 -  died in this world between 1990 and 2015, whose deaths were preventable. This is more than all the deaths in all the wars and concentration camps down through history. In 2015 alone, 5.9 million children under the age of 5 will die. The target set by the Sustainable Development Goals which are expected to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly this month will allow at  least another 56 million to die by 2030. On a daily basis, 16,000 are dying every day, 11 every minute.

The world knows how to prevent these deaths. It has been decreasing the number of deaths. In 1990, 12.7 million children under 5 were dying each year. Better care during pregnancy, better post-natal care, mosquito nets, vaccinations, better nutrition etc. - all helped to save the lives of children. The world has enough resources and logistical capability to save these lives. What it lacks is the will.

These children are defenseless. They cannot get a job. They do not know what is wrong with them, what measures to take to ensure their survival. They are totally dependent on us. While it is commendable that measures have been taken to save millions of children’s lives, it is not enough. Being human demands that we do everything necessary to save all these children. Currently, we are not doing that.

This is a global problem. The fact that the child who is dying maybe thousands of miles away does not absolve us of our obligation. The old adage that one should not do to another what one does not want done to oneself is still universally true. If we were that child thousands of miles away, would we not want everybody in the world to do all they could to save us?

The areas of greatest concern are Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The country with the highest under-five deaths per 1000 births is Angola. This year, 157 under-five children out of 1000 will die. In 1990, the number was 229 out of a thousand. So, there has been progress, but close to 1 in 5 children never make it to the age of 5. The number who die within the first 28 days of life is 49 out of 1000. These cold figures do not express the agony, pain and suffering that their families experience.

In the United States, the number who die before the age of 5 is 7 out of 1000, 20 times less than in Angola. The number who die within the first 28 days of life is 4 out of 1000 - 12 times less than in Angola. But even the U.S. does not have the best record - 148th. position out of 193, with the higher the number, the better the record. Finland and Iceland jointly rank highest at 193.

Statistics could be piled upon statistics, but the essential message is the same. As long as we not do everything in our power to prevent the deaths of these children, we are diminishing our humanity, in the same way that slaveowners and conquerors diminished theirs. Will future generations look back and wonder how we could let all those precious lives wither away?  Hopefully, they will not have to make that judgment. Hopefully, the world - and especially the world leaders gathered at the U.N. Summit this Fall - will look the problem squarely in the face, and set about doing all that is necessary.

Each child is a precious human being. There is no reason that any of their lives should be snuffed out because we did not care enough. Let your voice be heard loud and clear to all concerned. After all, we are here because others were concerned to keep us alive. Let us do likewise.

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