UNCHS (Habitat) Regional Symposium on Urban Poverty in Asia

Fukuoka, 27-29 October 1998

Urban Poverty and Children in Asia: Issues and Initiatives
by Emma Porio

Professor and Chair, Ateneo de Manila University and Coordinator, Global Urban Research Initiative (GURI) for Southeast Asia. The author acknowledges the assistance of Ms. Christine S. Crisol in preparing this paper.

1. Introduction

Until the recent economic crisis, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region were experiencing substantial economic growth for the past 10-15 years. Yet, this region also has the largest number of people living below the poverty line (UNDP 1998). Forty-five percent of its poor will live in urban areas by the end of this decade while 50 percent of the region's poor population are infants, children, and adolescents (UNICEF 1998).

This paper argues that both in times of rapid economic expansion and contraction, poverty pervades in the region as can be reflected starkly in the faces and experiences of its children. More significantly, the impacts of these economic processes are more acutely felt by children from households below the poverty line. Economic and political developments in the past decade and the recent crisis have heightened the vulnerabilities of children in Asian cities. The paper then asserts for creative solutions anchored on participatory, empowering, partnership-based, child-sensitive, and community/school-based approaches to the problems of impoverished children and their parents.

2. Urbanization, Poverty, and Children

The increasing urbanization of the Asia-Pacific region has put great demands on the urban system for basic social services. Until recently, poverty has been mainly understood in policy circles as a rural phenomenon. However, statistics show that the number of urban poor population in Asian cities is increasing at an alarming rate (Hasan 1997). Eleven of the 21 megacities (with a population of 10 million or more) of the world are located in the Asian region (Yeung 1995). By the next century, 45 percent of the urban population will live in squatter and slum settlements.

In the developing countries of Asia, an average of 67 infants die per 1,000 births compared to four (4) in Japan. In Southeast Asia, one (1) out of eight (8) children die of preventable causes such as malnutrition and dehydration from diarrhea before reaching the age of five. Almost 50 percent of the population in this region do not have access to sanitation services (see appendix C).

Another visible evidence of urban poverty is the proliferation of street and working children in the cities of the region. Highly vulnerable and defenseless, they can be robbed, injured, abused, ill-treated or even killed while sleeping on the pavements (Le Breton 1997). Poverty is also clearly seen in the increasing number of children in especially difficult circumstances (CEDC) such as those engaged in prostitution, drug/substance abuse or victims of sexual and physical abuse those in situations of armed conflict (or subsequently as refugees), and those in conflict with the law (see appendices A-C). The physical and psychological well-being of children is severely hampered by their impoverished conditions. Their lives are perpetually at risk and their rights are constantly violated through exploitation and violence. From these range of conditions, the problems and needs of infants, children, and adolescents have also to be differentiated. Thus, the needs of infants (0-5 years old) vary considerably from working children and adolescents (6-17 years old). Moreover, their needs also vary according to the degree of deprivations experienced by their families and communities.

Children of urban poor families often live in slum and squatter communities/neighborhoods under intolerable, often, sub-human conditions. They do not have access to clean water and have no proper sewage and garbage disposal system, thus making them highly vulnerable to infectious diseases. Moreover, they are also susceptible to crime syndicates and gang conflicts, substance/drug abuse, and gambling. Often they come from single-headed households because of the death, separation, or labor migration of one of their parents. High maternal mortality rates in the region often leave a great number of children growing up without their mothers.

The difficulties of children often indicate the breakdown of traditional support systems such as the family because of rapid urbanization and modernization. Children's hardships and suffering cannot be separated from the impoverished conditions of their families and urban poor communties. Their acute needs for housing, food, health, education, and incomes are the very forces that push children to look for a means of livelihood on the streets, engage in prostitution or be hooked up with crime/drug syndicates.

Specific conditions of children. In some countries, specific historical/environmental events have also pushed children into cities where they live in impoverished conditions. In Cambodia, war/armed conflicts, droughts, and devastating floods have driven a large number of migrants to the cities thereby swelling the ranks of urban poor children in difficult circumstances. Years of war and conflict have also resulted in a large number of children refugees in Sri Lanka. Land mines have also produced children with physical disabilities. In the same manner, long droughts and floods have brought death and suffering to children in Laos and Bangladesh. In Indonesia, drought and food riots brought on by the crisis have made children in urban areas especially vulnerable.

The economic reforms in the transition economies of China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia have reduced centralized planning and increased their reliance on market forces and foreign investment, usually through joint ventures with state enterprises. These have also led to the displacement of people in the countryside who flock to the cities in search of jobs. In China, the "floating" populations in cities have increased considerably during the last 10 years.

In Cambodia, Afghanistan and Mongolia, the loss of Soviet Aid in the late 1980s contributed to a decrease in agricultural production and an increase in children's malnutrition and mortality. In these countries, social programs of the government have to be realigned in order to become responsive to the problems created by the market economy and the urban poor children affected by these processes.

Although economic reforms in South/Southeast Asia have contributed to economic growth, increases in incomes have not dramatically reduced child malnutrition and infant mortality. In the Philippines and Indonesia, 52 and 70 children, respectively, die in every 1,000 births. In South Asia, families continue to feed men and boys more than girls. In Nepal, 50 percent of children under five years of age suffer from malnutrition.

3. Globalization, Decentralization and Democratization: Impacts on Children

The globalization of commerce and trade has increased the penetration of external capital investments and has created new consumption styles in Asian cities. Liberalization and the pressure for market competitiveness has led to a high demand for cheap labor which has increased the vulnerability of urban poor/child workers. Taken together with the economic crisis, these have created as well as heightened new dimensions of risks to urban poverty among children. Alongside this process, the increasing sophistication of communication technologies and tourism strategies have facilitated the growth of child pornography and prostitution. This has increased the susceptibility of children, especially the poor, to sexual exploitation/abuse by trafficking agents/syndicates.

New forms of vulnerabilities have also been generated by urban development initiatives such as the emphasis on tourism, increased spending on infrastructural projects and reduced expenditure in social services. Large infrastructural projects often displace urban poor families through eviction and demolition, which in turn, impact negatively on children's health and schooling.

In the past few years, increasing decentralization and privatization of social services has been observed. Ironically, while functions have been devolved to municipal governments, there has been no substantial increase in the resources made available. In general, local governments lack the institutional/financial capabilities to assume their new responsibilities. Urban poor households are often not able to have access to the meager services available and, if they are able to, they get them at much higher rates.

The emphasis on economic growth also lead major cities to be identified as key tourist destinations, spawning entertainment and service industries that often make children of the poor vulnerable to activities like prostitution.

There is, however, a positive political trend in the region: the increasing democratization and the emergence of civil society in socio-political life (Laothamatas 1997, Porio 1997, Yamamoto 1996). Increasingly, urban poor-focused NGOs/CBOs have become active in community development activities. In the same vein, urban poor communities and children have started to become more assertive in seeking solutions to the problems generated by urban development (Boonyabancha 1997).

4. The Economic Crisis: Impacts on Children

The currency devaluation and the economic crisis in the region have caused business closures, production cutbacks, and increased unemployment/underemployment. These have also led to the massive repatriation of overseas workers causing severe economic dislocations of their families. In Southeast and East Asia, four million jobs have been lost in 1997 alone. Before the crisis, the percentage of households below the poverty line ranged from 15 percent in Indonesia to 40 percent in the Philippines. After the crisis, it is estimated to hover from 45 percent in the Philippines to about 45-50 percent in Indonesia (or roughly affecting 100 million Indonesians).

Although the impacts of the economic crisis to children have not yet been systematically examined, initial data reveal very disturbing trends. The massive loss of jobs and economic opportunities for urban workers find urban poor parents working harder for less money, increasing the pressure on children to work harder as well and/or drop out of school or engage in risky activities such as prostitution, drug selling, and theft.

In August 1998, the Indonesian education minister announced that children's enrollment has gone down from 78 percent to 54 percent. This happened even after the enrollment period was extended to give parents time to look for tuition fee money. The crisis is also forcing large numbers of children to beg/work in the streets, engage in hard labor, prostitution, and trafficking. According to Thai children's rights advocates, Bangkok is reportedly becoming the center for child trafficking in the region. Owing to social and political problems, children and adolescents fleeing from poverty in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China are being trafficked through the Thai borders to provide cheap labor and for prostitution in Bangkok (Bangkok Post, Sept. 22, 1998). In India, children trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh have also been increasing. Boys end up in carpet factories while girls are recruited to the brothels in New Delhi and other cities. In Davao City, Philippines, the Tambayan Center for Abused Street Girls has reported more than 1,000 teen-age girls have turned to prostitution charging as little as from 50 cents to $2.50 (Washington Times, September 25, 1998).

The economic crisis has also greatly reduced national budgets for education, health, and other social services. In the Philippines, the government is planning a 25 percent cut from the national budget and to withhold 10 percent of local government's revenue allocation because of decreased tax revenues. Certainly, this will lead to the deterioration of devolved health and socials services. This trend can also be seen in Thailand and Indonesia.

5. Urban Poverty and Children: New Forms of Exploitation

Empirical evidence suggests that at least 25-45 percent of the household income among urban poor households are earned by the children (Blanc 1995, Porio 1995). Since a large proportion of the poor household's income is spent on food, children's work and income are very crucial to the survival of their families.

In cities, children face health hazards. Although boys are likely to end up on the streets and engage in substance/drug abuse and violence, girls are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The latter also carry a disproportionate burden of sexually transmitted diseases (Bundy et. al., Porio 1993). The generally low status of girls and their limited access to education make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. In some parts of Asia, families who traditionally wish for sons to work for the family now hope to have daughters to sell since their earning potential is greater. This feeds into the trafficking networks for cheap labor and sexual exploitation in the Mekong region of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Southern Yunan province of China. The increasing demand for child prostitutes is due to rising incomes and to prevailing misconceptions that sex with young girls or children makes one free from the dangers of sexual infection, STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

The low status of women and girls in South Asia have affected negatively their access to education, health, income sources and credit. In Pakistan, despite increases in urban incomes, mothers continue to feed better the boys and men in their families (Save the Children 1998). The feminization of labor migration in Philippines has negatively affected the survival and development of children.

The non-registration of children in poor households and of those belonging to ethnic minorities negatively bias their chances of survival, protection and development. This is especially critical in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Afghanistan. Children with no birth certificates are unprotected and have no access to health and education services. When they move to cities and towns, they are "non-existent" persons.

With large numbers of poor children without nutrition and education, the future of the region is greatly compromised. As societies continue to neglect their needs, a tragedy is being constructed everyday through decreased investments in health, nutrition and education programs. Poverty contributes to children losing their dignity/personhood and potential capabilities for their future.

Responses and Initiatives (Note 1)

"Unless governments, in partnership with civil society, embark on poverty alleviation through massive investments in social programs for urban working/streetchildren, more and more will become victims of drugs, sexual exploitation, physical abuse or forced into criminal activities".

-- Senator Ernesto Herrera, Philippine Senate

Responses to housing, education and health needs of the urban poor and their children can be divided into two general categories: (1) general investments on health, education and other social services by the government, and (2) specific programs/projects by international/local NGOs, CBOs, and the private sector designed to respond to the needs of specific categories of children (e.g., streetchildren). The Urban Basic Services Program (UBSP) of UNICEF belongs to the second category. This can be either in pilot form or has been replicated in several communities but usually not on a nationwide scale.

The failure of central governments to respond to the health, nutrition and housing needs of the poor have led to NGOs formulating programs for them. This has also led to some cities or local governments initiating small projects to respond to the needs of their poor constituents. But according to Hardoy (1995), micro-projects at the individual or community level that address the needs of children in situations of extreme risk have proliferated in Third World cities but their number is still too small to have their impact felt. The population of children at risk in cities is just too large (see appendices A-C) given the capacities of local governments, developmental NGOs, and charity-oriented institutions. With the trend towards liberalization and privatization, state investments in social services have also diminished.

In line with the trend towards decentralization and democratization in the region, the paper especially highlights initiatives that involve local governments in partnership with national agencies, NGOs, private sectoral groups, CBOs, and children's groups. Initiatives that emphasize empowerment and partnership with the private sector/civil society groups and their contribution (e.g., institutional support, funds, materials, and labor) are especially given special attention. This principle is illustrated in the programs/projects initiated both by international agencies (e.g., UNICEF, ILO, PLAN Int'l., Save the Children Foundation, ChildHope-Asia), national/local GOs/NGOs in partnership with urban poor communities and children.

The following section shall highlight some innovative approaches and responses to urban children in poverty. Particularly, it focuses on key initiatives utilizing participatory, partnership, and empowerment-based approaches.

Other Initiatives. The Family and Community Empowerment and Development (FCED) in Penafrancia, Manila is also an example of an NGO providing several layers of interconnected interventions in health, education and nutrition utilizing child-to-child and parent-to-parent approaches. The street-based initiatives of Bahay Tuluyan in Manila and Quezon City serve street children who have either abandoned their homes because of abuse and neglect or been abandoned by their parents because of poverty and/or marital conflicts. Through their Junior Educators' Program, it utilizes the child-to-child approach in their education program supported by a pedicab mobile library. In some cases, this mobile library can also be a mobile clinic similar to that of the Pangarap Shelter's initiative in Pasay City, Metro Manila. Similar initiatives have also been undertaken by sectarian groups like the vocational training programs of Don Bosco in the Philippines and the Yogyakarta Free Children Society in Indonesia.

Broad-based programs. The UNICEF's Urban Basic Services Program (UBSP) has been working with national/local governments and NGOs for the past decade to support children's education, health, and nutrition programs in Third World cities. In Bombay, it supported the "Child-to-Child Program" which teaches children from squatter communities the basic principles of hygiene, health care and nutrition. Between 1989 and 1995, the program trained 20,000 children reaching 120,000 families or 600,000 people (Helmore 1997). A school health program run by the state of Gujarat, India reaches 3.5 million schoolchildren twice a year with medicine and nutrient supplement costing US $0.33 per child per year. These initiatives have reduced considerably infant mortality rate in these areas (Helmore 1997).

The Urban Community Development Office (UCDO) in Thailand have been assisting urban poor families to access credit for housing, livelihood and vocational training (Boonyabancha 1997). This type of assistance can increase the capabilities of urban poor families in providing the health, education and nutrition needs of their children. In the same manner, slum and upgrading activities in Hiep Thanh, HoChiMinh City have far-reaching impacts to the health, education, and nutrition of urban poor children compared to some child-specific programs (Thai Thi 1997).

In Surabaya, Indonesia, Plan International has implemented children's programs in partnership with urban poor households and local officials in setting up livelihood training, counselling and non-formal education services. It emphasizes skills building and credit access in support of children's education and health. With children's participation, the budget allocation in their local plan of action was changed to include more training programs for children. Children's inputs have been crucial in increasing the emphasis on children's programs in the Community Strategic Planning Process. In these programs, contributions (e.g., materials, labor) from children's families and communities constitute 27 percent of the program budget. This is also facilitated by the program's collaborative linkages with local government units like LKMD (community development planning body), PKK (womens' group promoting family welfare, Karang Taruna (youth group) and self-help development groups (Kelompok Swadaya Masyarakat). Advocacy for children's rights are also being integrated into health and immunization, education, economic (IGP/credit assistance), environment, and sanitation activities (Plan International 1997).

ChildHope-Asia implements innovative and holistic programs designed to raise awareness and empower children, their families and communities. These programs are implemented in partnership with local governments, NGOs, women, and children's groups. In the same manner, Lihok-Pilipina, an NGO focused on women and children's issues organized the Bantay-Banay (literally, Family Watch but is actually a comunity-based group vigilant of family concerns) to monitor social services linked to water, sanitation, health and domestic violence.

These broad-based programs have built the capacities of urban poor families and communities in meeting the needs of their children. Thus, these types of programs should be supported.

Convention of the Rights of Children (CRC) Initiatives. A survey of CRC initiatives in Asia (SCF-UK 1997) show that most governments have minimal budget allocation for the implementation of the CRC. Although significant progress has been made in formulating National Action Plans for Children by most countries in the region, there is still a wide gap between the real needs of children and the invested resources and performance targets of the government. In general, the survey also showed that children and their parents are mainly viewed as beneficiaries rather than partners in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of programs. But the CRC initiatives and the national plans need to be brought down to local governments, which remain largely uninformed.

CRC promises to provide a dynamic framework for programming interventions among governments and NGOs. These interventions also attempt to articulate children's rights within the specific political and socio-cultural context and the problems/issues confronting children. Thus, in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Tahiland initiatives are linked to issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, prostitution, trafficking, and drug use. In Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, child labor and girl-child issues are very significant in programming interventions. In like manner, CRC initiatives in the Philippines and Indonesia, revolve around health, education, and child abuse/labor issues.

Examples of CRC Initiatives. Bantay Bata 163 (Child Watch), a Philippine TV network initiative is a 24-hour hotline where people can call to report cases of child abuse. This program is supported by rescue teams, trained counsellors, local government officials and community volunteers. Child Rights-ASIANET supports advocacy amnd mobilization activities for the rights of the child and CRC.

The CRC initiatives have greatly increased awareness of children's rights to protection, survival and development. For example, NGOs have trained legal professionals and police enforcement agencies for the needs of children in conflict with the law, domestic violence/abuse, and for children in prostitution. But since the resources for social services have been reduced, meeting children's needs becomes a frustrating exercise.

Lessons from Innovative Practices

A review of innovative program responses to the issues and problems of urban poor children show that we need to:

1. Refine poverty alleviation strategies so that the participation and partnership with children, parents and private sectoral groups are maximized. This must be integral to the design, implementation and monitoring of poverty alleviation initiatives. Experiences have shown that programs have sustained their service delivery and outcomes, if these are built on the capacities and resources of children, families and communities.

2. Integrate children-specific programs to general poverty alleviation initiatives in the community (e.g., creating employment/income sources for the parents and children must be linked to the credit and training programs for the urban poor, education and health programs, housing programs for the slum/squatter populations). Programs and services must be seen as interconnected sets of interventions.

3. Increase massive investments in education (early childhood development programs, elementary and high school), health, and nutrition.

4. Build the capability of local governments to respond to the housing, health and schooling needs of the urban poor and their children.

5. Link children's rights (CRC initiatives) to women's rights and to indigenous people's rights, especially in areas where displaced ethnic groups have moved to cities.

6. Anchor program activities on the existing initiatives the community, family, and child build their capacities to find solutions to their problems.

7. Utilize the creative energies of multi-sectoral coalitions and alliances.

8. Sustain the commitment of government institutions, private sector and civil society groups and effectively translate these into institutional arrangements and budget allocations. This demands a multisectoral alliance of partners and child rights advocates within and outside the government and civil society.

9. Link (horizontally and vertically) school-based and community-based cost-effective solutions for health and education problems to state and civil society-based institutions. The Bombay and New Delhi experiences, the Children's Laboratory initiative in the Payatas dumpsite, Davao City are examples of interconnected sets of innovative interventions.

Most programs that have met the needs of children have always used participatory and empowering approaches involving children, their families and communities in partnership with NGOs/CBOs and local governments. Yet, it seems that for most of the programs on the gound, participation and empowerment seem to have thrived more on the level of discourse rather than on practice.

Although there is an increasing recognition that urban poverty alleviation programs are not efficiently and effectively reaching the urban poor children and women in slum and squatter communities, there are very few innovative programs which are delivered in a wide scale.

Issues. Several issues have emerged regarding the programmatic responses of states, NGOs, private sector and civil societies towards impoverished children in Asian cities. Investments on housing, education and health for the urban poor are being plagued with problems of access and reach. The meager interventions of both state and civil society have only reached a a small segment of the urban poor children. Effective programs of NGOs and local governments often have very limited population reach. How do we move from pilot, micro-level projects and initiatives and be able to replicate them at a wider scale?

Moreover, local governments are very ill-equipped to respond to the needs of the children and the poor. The economic crisis and the budget reduction for social services pose a serious challenge both for national/local governments and civil society.

The lack of disaggregation of children's statistics on health and nutrition by city districts blurs the intra-urban inequalities. In reality, infant mortality/morbidity in urban poor communities are almost twice as high compared to those in rich districts (Hardoy 1995).

Children's Rights and Social Services. CRC initiatives have heightened the awareness of governments, NGOs, parents and children regarding children's rights but these are weakly linked to social services that really meet the needs of the children. What it has achieved, however, is a "rights discourse" among adults in authority positions and children. In hierarchical societies of Asia, which emphasize filial respect, this has caused some tensions in the implementation of CRC. Seemingly, there is a disjuncture from the urban basic services approach to child rights advocacy initiatives.

6. Children in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects

The situation for urban poor children in Asian cities is increasingly becoming worse because of increased displacement, new forms of exploitation brought about by rapid economic expansion, increased investments in infrastructural development and the recent economic and political crisis in the region. Moreover, globalization, liberalization and the pressure for market competitiveness demand cheap labor which increase the vulnerability of urban poor workers and child laborers.

New forms of vulnerabilities have been created among urban poor children because of broader development initiatives like the emphasis on tourism to earn foreign exchange, increased spending on infrastructural projects rather than increases in social expenditure. Large infrastructural projects often displace urban poor families through eviction and demolition, which in turn, impact negatively on children's health and schooling. The increasing sophistication of communication technologies and the proliferation of child pornography/prostitution have increased susceptibility of children to trafficking and sexual exploitation/abuse.

While urban poor populations have rapidly increased, investments in social services for children have not grown commensurately. In some cases, these have been reduced. Local governments, increasingly saddled with the responsibility of delivering social services, are finding that their revenue bases and capabilities have not grown. With decentralization, there has been decreasing investments to education, nutrition and health. This has also lowered the capabilities of municipal bureaucracies to respond to the needs of the urban poor children.

The emphasis in recent years on government's role as mainly that of an "enabler" or "facilitator" has brought mixed impacts to the urban poor children. While this perspective in policy and program delivery has mobilized the creative potentials of communities and civil society groups, it has also "excused" governments from taking responsibility in funding programs. Negatively, governments seem to be increasing their reliance on NGOs and the communities to respond to the children's needs.

Recent initiatives on children have centered on the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC). While this has raised awareness and promoted a children's rights discourse, this has not led to greater investments for children's needs like nutrition, health, and education at a broad scale. It has generated largely a series of micro-level initiatives by governments/NGOs.

The recent drop in the educational participation of children in Indonesia and children engaged in prostitution in the Philippines and Thailand do not bode well for the future of Asia. Potentially, this has devastating effects on the future of the region.

But decentralization and democratization have also opened new areas for partnership and opportunities for resource mobilization. This has spawned program interventions anchored on participatory, empowerering, and partnership-based approaches involving state, civil society, and private sectoral groups. These initiatives need to be adapted on a greater scale.

7. Prospective Directions

Support the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI). Cities and their local governments should be rated according to how well they have protected the rights of children and respond to their health and education needs. Local plans of action for children should be supported to facilitate the integration of children's concerns into local development plans.

Link CRC intitiatives to basic child survival and development programs. Raising awareness and mobilizing communities for the Convention of the Rights of Children (CRC) should be integrally anchored on the promotion of programs for children's survival and development.

Promote/support participatory and partnership-based empowering programs. Design and implementation of programs for chidlren and their families should be done in partnership with local governments and other institutional partners (children's and citizens' groups, private sector, and urban poor communities).

Increase the capabilities of local governments. For cities and municipalities to respond effectively to the needs of children, they need to be trained on how to integrate systematically children's needs to the overall local development initiatives. Particularly, capability-building of local governments is needed in formulating and implementing poverty alleviation programs which address children's needs.


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APPENDIX A: Notes on Children and Poverty (Note 4)


75 percent of the world's poorest people live in the Asia-Pacific region. Forty-five percent of its poor will live in urban areas by the end of this decade.

Despite recent economic gains, the vast majority of Asia's population live close to the poverty line.

Growing prosperity, in fact, has put into sharper contrast the difference between the rich and the poor, projecting materialism and consumer values unto traditional ways of life and value systems.

50 percent of all the children under five in South Asia are malnourished.

The generally low status of girls and women and their limited opportunities to education and employment leave them extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

In some parts of Asia, families who traditionally wish for sons to work for the family now hope to have daughters to sell since their earning potential is greater.

Asia has been marketed as a key destination for sex tourism. Hard-pressed economies in the region have come to value the foreign exchange brought in by such a trade.

Trafficking of children in Asia is prevalent, as is brothel-based prostitution, although in some countries like the Philippines, street prostitution is more common.

Trafficking is prevalent in the Mekong region of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, and the Southern Yunan province of China. The children of ethnic minorities in this region who are marginalized by their language, culture, and extreme poverty, are especially at risk.

In Indochina, after a decade of restriction on most forms of prostitution under communist regimes, Viet Nam and Cambodia have serious problems of child prostitution and trafficking.

Organized crime is heavily involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

APPENDIX B: Children's Situation in the Asian Region(Note 5)


53 million are below 15 years old.

Two in every three children are malnourished.

One in three is forced to work for his or her survival.

5,000 children in prostitution reside in Dhaka alone.

About 2,000 are working in licensed brothels, the rest on the streets.

Large numbers of Bengali girls are being trafficked to India and Pakistan.


4.7 million are below 18 years old.

80 percent of children are enrolled in the primary schools.

Only 13 percent of the children are able to complete Grade 5.

200,000 children are handicapped.

115 out of every 1000 children die before they reach the age of 1.

66 out of every 1000 children die before they reach the age of 5.

200 children die everyday and the leading causes of death are:

diarrhea, respiratory infection, heart problems, typhoid, dengue fever and malnutrition.

40 percent of children below 5 are underweight.

75 percent of 1 year olds are immunized.

616,023 child laborers aged 5-17 years old work in the informal sector.

35 percent of the total number of sex workers are minors.

Child soldiers are being recruited by the Khmer Rouge and the Government Army involved in direct fighting and paramilitary activities.

Children are slowly awakening to their rights but there is some resistance to girl-child participation due to cultural conventions.

Mass killings and the deliberate destruction of most political and social institutions in the 1970s, including the family, followed by war during the Vietnamese occupation, left the country vulnerable to an increase in commercial sexual exploitation..

A flourishing sex trade developed with the presence of a UN military force in the country. According to UNICEF-supported surveys in Cambodia in 1995, there were 10,000 to 15,000 prostitutes in Phnom Penh.

At least one-third of the total number of prostitutes were found to be under 18 and many of those surveyed reported being deceived or sold into prostitution by people known to them, including family and neighbors.


380 million are below 18 years old.

30 percent of 3-6 year olds are covered by pre-school programs.

2 percent of school age children are still not enrolled despite primary education being universal.

8.1 million children are handicapped.

5.52 percent is the mortality rate for children under 5.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death

21 percent of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.

16,000 children are orphaned and abandoned.

Female child discrimination is prevalent.

70 percent of the drop outs are girls, they often receive less educational opportunities.

An increase in street children in large cities has been noted with the growth of migrant workers.

Increasing cases of abduction and trafficking of girls who are either taken to nearby countries or sold as brides.

Child labor is prevalent in rural enterprises.

Young offenders aged 14-18 are tried in regular people's courts and detained in juvenile correction facilities.

Children between 16-18 years old are allowed to be sentenced to death.

More than 10000 women and children are abducted and sold each year in Sichuan Province alone. (The People's Daily, 1994)


1.2 million are below 15 years old.

Free, compulsory education is provided for children from primary to secondary school; over 87.5 percent of the children attend the schools.

The dropout rate has soared by 97 percent from 1,153 in 1992-1993 to 2,275 in 1993-1994

85 percent of children are given other inoculations at 1 year old.

122 children aged below 10 years died from 1989-1995 unattended due to parents' ignorance and failure to provide standard care.

There is an absence and lack of social services and protection for Vietnamese refugee children in the camps.

Thousands of immigrant children suffer long separation from their mothers.

Financial hardship, housing discrimination from government services and various school problems exist.

20,000 children are entirely dependent on government assistance.

Criminal liability is 7 years old.

Legally abolished corporal punishment is still widely accepted as a form of discipline resulting in child abuse.

Sexual abuse reports have increased from 2 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 1994.


355.9 million are below 15 years old.

Between 400,000 and 500,000 children are prostitutes. (1991 survey by India Today)

20 percent to 30 percent of the estimated 100,000 prostitutes found in India's main cities are children. (1993 survey by the Central Welfare Board).

94 percent of the prostitutes are Indian, 2.6 percent are Nepalese and 2.7 percent Bengali.

The sex exploiters are mostly local men who frequent brothels.

The prostitution of children in temples in India is illegal, nevertheless the Devadesi system - in which a young girl's virginity is sold and they are then used as temple prostitutes - is still believed to induct 5,000 girls a year.

Trafficking is an important aspect of the sex industry in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan , and Sri Lanka.

Between 5,000 and 7,000 girls are reportedly trafficked from Nepal alone to India every year. India is also a center from which girls are exported for a fee as brides, usually to rich, older men in parts of the Middle East.

The problem of young girls, in particular, being kidnapped in Nepal and shipped across the border to India is acute.


70.5 million are below 15 years old.

An estimated 60 percent of the 71,281 registered prostitutes in Indonesia were between 15 and 20 years of age.

Sexual exploitation of children on the streets has increased as has sex tourism.


18.9 million are below 15 years old.

Child pornography is prevalent.

Sex tours from Japan to nearby Thailand, Philippines, and Taiwan are increasing as is the trafficking of women (mostly between 15-18 years old) from these countries - and in recent years from Eastern Europe and Latin America - into Japan for prostitution..


2.4 million are below 18 years old.

7,789 primary schools accommodate 762,539 students (335,157 are girls but are taken out of school earlier to work at home).

Girl children have a more favorable status as they are viewed to be more "useful".

11 percent of the total budget is allocated for education.

8 percent of overall government expenditure is used on health services making it inaccessible and of poor quality.

48 percent of children under 5 experience stunting and wasting due to malnutrition especially for rural children and ethnic minorities.

Juvenile crimes, promiscuity and substance abuse are increasing.

15 is the set age of criminal liability with no separate system for juveniles in the justice system.

Child trafficking to work in Thailand sweatshops and bars is growing.

There is an increase in abuse of girls 15 years old and above from rural areas working in city factories.

No separate body of law reflects the needs of children.

Buddhist temples play an important role in caring for disadvantaged children in orphanages that are regulated by the Ministry of Health.


7.7 million are below 16 years old.

80 percent of children have access to clean water and proper sanitation

Young children are prone to infection, fever, cold/cough, asthma, skin problems and diarrhea.

Literacy rate is over 90 percent.

Schools do not only lack space but also lack facilities like canteens, libraries, play and study areas.

Traditional forms of social support are lost, leading to increased abuse neglect and exploitation.

In a 1994 study, children indicated that they are uncomfortable with their home environment pushing them to spend more time outside the home (day or night) claiming to be depressed with their conditions.

Reports of youth offenders from petty thefts, vandalism, gangs, rape and firearm possession are increasing.

There is decreased safety in the urban environments, both in the public and private domain.

The number of sexual assaults and abuses happening to children is increasing.

Programs and activities to enhance the quality of services are needed in areas related to the protection of children suffering from child abuse, neglect and exploitation, among them child prostitutes, child laborers, street children and abandoned children.

Young girls are prone to abuse in the urban informal economy and in domestic service.


942.8 thousand are below 18 years old

The mortality rate for children under 5 is 82.7 for every 1000 live births.

The predominant cause of death is pneumonia.

10.2 percent of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.

Compulsory primary school enrollment fell from 98 percent to 84 percent due to the economic crisis, shortage of boarding schools and school materials in 1989 to 1995.

52,000 children were not enrolled in 1995.

20,000 children have dropped out since 1990.

20 percent of the national budget is allocated for education.

About 385,500 young people below 16 years old come from low-income families.

At least 65,000 are destitute children and 4,427 children are orphans.

54,674 children come from single headed households.

Over 5,000 children make a living from the street on a variety of semi-legal and illegal activities such as prostitution.

800-1,200 children are completely homeless.


14.9 million are below 15 years old.

15 percent of the national budget is allocated for education.

For 5 million students there are only 36,500 primary schools.

About 750,000 children drop out every year.

1 out of 10 students successfully completes the level with no repetition.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death.

Neonatal mortality rate is 15.2 for every 1000 live births.

Perinatal mortality rate is 25.4 for every 1000 live births.

Under 5 mortality rate is 150 for every 1000 live births.

5 percent of the budget is allocated for health.

71 to 91 percent of children are engaged in household chores.

18 to 51 percent of children are engaged in family livelihood.

6 to 14 percent of children are engaged in wage labor.

Out of 7,000 street children: 66.4 percent work in the streets (involved in scavenging, manual labor and petty trading), 24 percent beg and 3 percent loiter.

Majority of the juvenile offenders occur in the age group of 12-14 years, 46 percent are accused of burglary, rape and homicide.

Physically/mentally handicapped children do not receive any special care

Around 50,000 trafficked children have been found prostituted in Thailand with 10,000 new recruits yearly.


22.8 million are below 18 years old.

There are insufficient school facilities, quality education and teacher's benefits for the growing number of students in the pre-school, elementary and secondary levels.

4.4 million children (56.4 percent) suffer from malnutrition.

Preventable diseases like diarrhea are still the main cause of deaths among urban poor children.

3.7 million employed children ages 5 to 17 years old. Nearly half are below the legal working age of 15.

2.2 million working children are exposed to hazardous work environment.

Despite existing laws, employers are still able to lure children into bonded, slavery-like and hazardous conditions.

There are 1.5 million street and working children in 65 major cities.

60,000 child abuse and sexual exploitation cases have been recorded and cases have been increasing since 1990.

14,000 children aged 10-17 are arrested/detained with adults and charged in common courts for various crimes/offenses.

Handicapped children compose 10 percent of the total population, they lack continuing services for their total development and mainstreaming in society.

60,000 to 100,000 are child prostitutes.

35 percent of the total number of prostitutes are street children.

40 percent of the sex exploiters are consist of tourists and military troops.


6.6 million are below 15 years old.

Tourism growth has increased the sexual exploitation of children.

Some 20,000 boys are exploited as prostitutes in beach resorts.

30,000 children are prostitutes.

10,000 girls are sexually exploited in brothels.


4.9 million are below 15 years old.

Between 40,000 and 60,000 children are exploited in prostitution by local men and visiting Asian businessmen.

A popular destination of Japanese sex tourists for decades.

A significant number of young sex workers are marginalized aboriginal girls.


28.9 million are below 18 years old.

Health services are inadequate.

HIV/AIDS incidence is high.

The quality of life for the children is very low, with harsher problems on health and education.

Children from poor families, rural areas and disabled children are often physically and mentally exploited by being sold in sex industries or turned into cheap labor.

Some children are neglected to the point of homelessness.

Children do not receive the social services and benefits to which they are entitled.

Children, especially girls, drop out from school to help their families earn a living or do household chores.

There is a large group of children trafficked into Thailand from neighboring countries.

Trafficked children are often exploited as victims of prostitution and child labor.

Criminal liability is 7 years old, this needs to be adjusted in line with the CRC

$1.5 billion is generated by the sex industry every year.

The number of child prostitutes in the country widely differ, ranging from:

15,000 cited by the Ministry of Public Health

30,000-40,000 cited by the Thai Red Cross

200,000 cited by the ECPAT and Police Colonel Bancha of Thailand (includes girls from neighboring countries)

800,000 cited by a survey from the Center for the Protection of Children's Rights.

The country has a large , domestic sex industry which has expanded from the 1950s, in part because of the military personnel who went there for the Korean and Viet Nam wars. More recently, the industry has grown as a result of the large numbers of business and vacation travelers seeking sex.

Asiawatch estimates that 10,000 Burmese women and girls are trafficked into Thailand annually. Others come from Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos. While many are kept in Thailand, large numbers are reportedly re-exported, along with other Thai girls to other Asian cities. Some from the Yunan province of China are taken to Singapore and Malaysia, others to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, and the United States.


33 million are below 16 years old.

42 percent of children under 5 are underweight.

Approximately 1 million children are born with physical and mental problems.

3 million children are in difficult circumstances with little access to basic care. Among them there are:

100,000 ethnic minority children and orphans 50 percent of these are street children

15,000-35,000 children are abandoned and victims of man-made/natural disasters which includes child refugees in and outside the country

The country's economic transition forced more children to leave school and start in the labor force.

Approximately 50,000 children at the age of 6 are supplementing the family income. They are drawn to farm work, gambling and even prostitution for employment. A growing number (8,000-20,000) are at risk of sexual abuse.

13,770 children are drug abusers and juvenile offenders.

About 113,090 have benefited from government programs such as community-based rehabilitation program, educational campaign for families and communities and training of social workers.

Around 2 million children of primary school age are not attending school.

The rates for repeaters (11 percent) and drop-outs (13 percent) are high.

Efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of education are being undertaken like: better pay and benefits to enhance the qualification of teachers, improvement in the school equipment, financial assistance to families in difficulty and setting up of schools with general and vocational education.

Rising child prostitution has been linked to recent economic liberalization.

There are 60,000 prostitutes of whom 6.3 percent are under the age of 16 years.

One in five of the country's prostitutes are girls under 18.


(1) This section draws heavily from Philippine, Indonesian, and Thai experiences.

(2) Children's Laboratory for Drama in Education Foundation is a child-focused NGO specializing in children's education, training, organizing, and other child empowerment initiatives.

(3) The researcher for this paper also went through hundreds of unpublished materials and research reports from the countries in the Asia-Pacific but are too numerous to list here.

(4) Culled from reports from Batang Manggagawa (BATAMAN) newsletter, End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), International Labor Organization (ILO), the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED), Save the Children Australia Foundation (SCAF), UNICEF and World Bank.

(5) Culled from Asiaweek, Asiawatch, Center for the Protection of Children's Rights (CPCR) Child Workers in Asia, ECPAT, UNICEF, UNDP Publications, Women's Union - Viet Nam and the World Population Data Sheet 1998.