Action against abuse
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
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
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."