By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 800 million children around the world are victims of malnutrition, disease, trafficking and other forms of economic and social exploitation, an annual Vatican report said.
Among the more worrisome trends are the more than 200 million child laborers between 5 and 14 years of age and the increase in street children on several continents, it said.
Millions more children are forced into armed conflict or prostitution. In many countries, births are unregistered, leaving those children open to a lifetime of exploitation, it said.
"They are the scandal of our time. For 860 million children of the world, the future is an unknown and the present is a nightmare that lies on the consciences of adults," said the report, issued Jan. 5 by Fides, the Vatican missionary news agency.
The annual report, first prepared in 2004, seeks to draw attention to the plight of young people on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, which the church marks as the world missionary day for children.
The Holy Childhood Association, one of four pontifical mission societies, finances and supports thousands of projects aiding the neediest children in developing countries. In 2004, it allocated $18 million for nearly 1,800 projects, including programs at schools and orphanages.
The report said that among the estimated 211 million child laborers about 171 million work in hazardous environments -- operating dangerous machinery, handling toxic materials or spending hours in poorly ventilated mines, for example.
At the origin of many forms of child exploitation is the fact that, according to UNICEF, more than 50 million children born each year, mostly in Africa and Asia, are never registered. They become, in effect, clandestine in their homelands, unknown to their own governments, the report said.
The Vatican report said that among the estimated 120 million street children about half live in South America, and some 30 million live in Asia. It said the street children population was increasing, particularly in the major cities of Eastern Europe.
Human trafficking involves more than a million children each year, in what has become a $1.2 billion business, it said. The phenomenon is growing, and Europe has become a central hub for the trade in children, it said.
Most of the victims are between 8 and 16 years old, destined for forced labor, criminal activities or prostitution; some newborns are also sold for adoption, it said.
The report cited projections that in a few years the number of children in Africa orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic will reach 18 million. Every minute in Africa, it said, one child contracts HIV and one child dies of AIDS.