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Action against abuse
By Jasmine Yin, Today, 17 November 2005

One meal at a hawker centre costs more than what hundreds of millions of children in developing Asian countries live on for one day.

These children - as many as 600 million of them - in the region are severely deprived of basic needs such as food, healthcare and shelter, according to international organisations Plan and the Asian Development Bank.

Noting the bleak plight of these children in the fast-booming region of Asia, two speakers at the 6th International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Ispcan) Asian Regional Conference urged countries to band together to eradicate these problems.

And they were both Singaporean.

Opening the conference, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan called on the 460 delegates from 38 countries - from government agencies to VWOs - to take the opportunity to share their experiences in protecting the children of Asia.

He cited the example of how cooperation among countries can work towards eradicating one of the biggest problems in this region: Child sex tourism.

The 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries are now working on a Traveller's Code to promote responsible tourism, which includes eliminating this problem.

Dr Balakrishnan will also include this topic on his agenda when he meets with the region's tourism ministers in January.

The move to take the protection of children to a higher level was seconded by Mr Kishore Mahbubani, who observed that this was a big shift happening on a global scale.

"It is not only a country's responsibility to protect its people, including its children, but now it is an international obligation," said the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

One key approach and challenge to doing so is to keep peace in the region, he said, highlighting the startling effects of war on children.

Giving the example of the conflicts between Japan and China, as well as that between Japan and Korea, he said that Asia should move towards zero prospect of war and focus economic improvement in the region.

Singapore's spectacular economic rise, for example, has led to it lowering its infant mortality rate faster than any other society, Mr Mahbubani said.

As a region, Asia also has to catch up with the west in terms of creating institutions of compassion. Most major relief agencies are western, he noted.

The challenge, he continued, is to create social safety nets to help those children at the bottom without creating welfare dependency.

The many-hands approach does not just apply in a regional context, but also on the homefront.

Sharing Singapore's multi-stakeholder approach, Dr Balakrishnan noted that the number of physical abuse cases here has gone down between 2003 and 2004.

Over the past five years, the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports has investigated a yearly average of 188 complaints of alleged child abuse.

Only 40 per cent of cases had real evidence of abuse.

"My ministry, as the key agency handling cases of child abuse in Singapore, can only be effective by working together with other agencies," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"The police, hospitals, schools and childcare centres are all important agencies in our partnership network."

 
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