Twenty-six Asian governments pledged Friday to work towards reducing disparities within their countries in a bid to improve the lives of the region’s 600 million children.

In a declaration, the countries pledged to "find ways to guarantee free or affordable services to all members of society. We recognise that the survival, growth and development of our children is a national public good that will guarantee the future success of our societies."

"We are concerned that in many countries wide gaps exist between different groups in society and/or regions in the country which exacerbate the vulnerability of children to malnutrition, ill health, exclusion from education, neglect and all forms of exploitation," the nations said.

The Siem Reap-Angkor Declaration followed three days of talks by representatives from across East Asia and the Pacific, focussing on disparities, adolescents and child survival, growth and development.

Rapid economic and social changes in the region have resulted in inequitable progress and contributed to increasing disparities that have exacerbated risks facing children, the declaration acknowledged.

Figures distributed at the talks showed that for instance in Indonesia, under-five mortality rates among the poorest were 110 per 1,000 live births compared to 28 per 1,000 among the richest quintile.

In host Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, under-five mortality was 50 per 1,000 live births compared to 229 per 1,000 in the northern provinces.

At the start of the talks the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Carol Bellamy called for greater spending in health and education especially targeted towards communities where disparities are high.

The region spends less on average on public health per capita than any other region in the world.

According to UNICEF, Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Indonesia all appear to be experiencing growing economic and social inequalities.

Countries also pledged innovative strategies to help adolescents, a fast-growing segment of the region’s population.

Lina Laigo, executive director of the Philippines’ Council for the Welfare of Children, told AFP that the talks and declaration were "very substantive".

"The agenda that they have agreed on and what they have identified is quite important for all the countries… in the sense that we are looking at things we have neglected before," she said.

"These new things that they have identified, adolescents and disparities, are really something that we need to address."

During the talks, an alliance of non-government organisations also urged the region’s governments to address the issue of violence against children.

Young people from 19 of the participating countries meanwhile held their own three-day forum and called for a larger role in decisions affecting their welfare.

The ministerial talks were held in the northwestern Cambodian town of Siem Reap, gateway to the famed Angkor temple complex. They have been held every second year since being initiated at the 1990 World Summit for Children in New York.

/ Current Affairs