ZimbabweThe problem: One in eight kids will die before the age of 5, according to the United Nations.
The cause: AIDS and poverty. Zimbabwe once had one of the best healthcare systems in Africa, but skyrocketing inflation caused by Robert Mugabe's misguided economic policies and a 3,000 percent increase in healthcare costs in recent years have destroyed Zimbabwe's hospitals.
Today, food shortages, lack of medicines, and a failing education system leave Zimbabwean kids with tragically bleak futures, and thousands make the dangerous trek to South Africa each year in search of a better life. To make a miserable situation even worse, one in five children has been orphaned by AIDS.
What needs to be done: Zimbabwe needs more resources for HIV education and prevention efforts that encourage long-term change in risky behaviors, along with new investments in hospitals. Sane fiscal policies to stop the hyperinflation that has destroyed Zimbabwe's economy wouldn't hurt, either.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)The problem: Child soldiers. About 40 percent of all soldiers in the DRC are kids, half of them young girls who have been forced into sexual slavery.
The cause: The legacy of war. Guerrilla and paramilitary forces kidnapped approximately 30,000 children for use as fighters, guards, and sex slaves during the countrys second civil war, which ended in 2003. Despite a formal end to the conflict, the use of child soldiers persists, as groups opposed to the government continue to force children to fight. Those who have escaped the fighting often find it extremely difficult to reintegrate into society, and many wind up on the streets. More than 20,000 street children live in Kinshasa, the capital, where they suffer from malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.
What needs to be done: The DRC, after decades of war, needs to make permanent peace and establish programs to rescue child soldiers and reintegrate them into normal life. As for the street children, the government and international aid organizations have launched a campaign to make the public more aware of their plight, and they are targeting their abusers. Law enforcement officials, instead of throwing these kids into prison with adults, are working to rehabilitate dilapidated juvenile detention centers.
IndiaThe problem: Child labor. An estimated 12 million Indian children toil in hard labor instead of attending school.
The cause: Economic growth and urbanization. As economies throughout Asia have grown dramatically in recent years, the demand for cheap labor has exploded. In many cases, children meet that demand. The problem is most acute in India. Most child workers there are migrants from rural areas, and they work shifts as long as 16 hours for pittances, generally less than $2.50 a day. The government has gone so far as to ban the practice, but it has had little success in combating it. Police generally ignore the problem, and even when a factory exploiting child laborers is shut down, another appears in its place.
What needs to be done: The Indian government recognizes the problem, and last year amended its Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act to expand on what constitutes child labor. However, without enforcement, the practice will continue unabated.