New WMA President Condemns Ill Treatment of Children

Condemnation of the way in which the world treats its children has been voiced by the new president of the World Medical Association.

Dr James Appleyard, a paediatrician from Britain, who was installed as president of the WMA at its Assembly meeting in Helsinki, said that more children had suffered from armed conflicts and violence in the last 10 years than in any other comparable period in history. Conflicts had killed two million children in the 1990s, leaving large numbers of children disabled and psychologically scarred.

"Why do we spend up to ten times more on methods of killing people than of saving their lives?" he asked in his inaugural address.

"Developing countries spent on average more on defence than either basic education or basic health care. Levels of defence spending by developed countries were about 10 times the level of spending allocated to international development. This is a grievous, grim and grisly distortion of priorities that puts a premium on suffering and death above health and happiness."

Dr Appleyard asked why, when the world could produce enough food to feed the world, malnutrition was implicated in more that half the deaths in the world of children under five years of age.

He said that lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation were among the major causes of child deaths, illnesses and malnutrition. The incidence of diarrhoea could be reduced by nearly a quarter and the number of deaths by close to two-thirds through improvements in safe water supply with sanitation and hygiene.

Dr Appleyard also asked why the world seemed to condone the use and abuse of children by its inaction.

"Children are increasingly becoming victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation with child prostitution, sex tourism and child slavery. There may be some 35 million child victims worldwide.

One form of a gross breach of the rights of young girls is female genital mutilation. Even in the UK where the practice is outlawed it is widely alleged that FGM continues to be practiced in private hospitals."

Dr Appleyard criticised governments for their "shameful and short sighted" level of investment in children and promised to use his year-long presidency to press for an improvement in the rights of children.

The full text of Dr Appleyard's speech (PDF)