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New UNICEF ‘atlas’ charts development disparities affecting China’s children

Mother and child in Baoxing County, Sichuan Province, China.
UNICEF/Zhao Heting
Mother and child in Baoxing County, Sichuan Province, China.

New UNICEF ‘atlas’ charts development disparities affecting China’s children

A newly published atlas outlining the vast socio-economic discrepancies separating millions of Chinese rural children from their urban counterparts has been released in an effort to address the country’s inequalities and boost assistance for China’s most vulnerable youths, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced today.

In a press release marking the publication of Children in China: An Atlas of Social Indicators 2014, UNICEF warned that despite China’s “spectacular” economic development, “striking geographical disparities” continue to pose challenges to the survival, development and protection of millions of rural children across the country.

“China’s tremendous progress for children and women has been an important contribution globally to reducing poverty, child mortality and meeting international development goals,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF’s Representative to China.

“Yet experience has taught us that we must look beyond national averages to see where disparity still exists so by disaggregating data, we can identify who the children are that are being left behind.”

According to the UN agency, China boasted “remarkable” achievements in poverty alleviation, ensuring universal access to primary education, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality for its estimated 274 million children in 2013. In addition, the country’s national under-five mortality rate declined at an average annual rate of 7 per cent – from 61 per thousand live births in 1991 to 12 per thousand live births in 2013.

Nonetheless, UNICEF added, the latest figures provided by the Atlas reveal deep divergences between rural and urban areas and among eastern, central and western regions further indicating that “some children are missing out on access to health, education and protection services.”

In 2013, for instance, the under-five mortality rate was 1.4 times higher in rural areas than urban ones while infant mortality was 1.2 times higher. Moreover, in poor and western regions, children are more likely to be undernourished and have less access to pre-primary education and improved sanitary facilities.

Internal migration also widely affects children as many are subjected to hardships and discrimination, according to the Atlas. As children move from rural areas to China’s cities, many remain unable to attend public schools. Others have to enrol in low-quality private schools and are confronted with high fees.

“In-country disparities mean that development outcomes for children and women in the poor rural areas of China are similar to those in low-income countries,” Ms. Mellsop continued. “In cities, migration and rapid urbanization present additional challenges related to urban poverty and vulnerability.”

Ms. Mellsop applauded the Chinese Government’s efforts to address the inequalities and to ensure that the benefits of the country’s rapid economic growth and development reach the most vulnerable children. At the same time, she cautioned, “the sheer scale and complexity of the challenge means that progress is gradual.”

“UNICEF looks forward to continued collaboration with the Government to reach children everywhere and make sure they have their fundamental rights met.”