Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, said at the 46th plenary assembly of the WHO that "poverty remains as the principal cause of children's sicknesses."
"More than 4.3 million children died from AIDS; every day in Africa alone 7,000 children become infected by AIDS," he said.
"Even in the richest countries, one out of every six children lives below the poverty level," he warned. "The gap between rich and poor is widening; 30% of children under age 5 go hungry or are malnourished, and 50% of the entire sub-Saharan African population lacks potable water."
The situation leads to 250 million children younger than 15 having to work, the archbishop said. Of these, between 50 million and 60 million do so in dangerous conditions, he said.
According to the World Labor Organization, 120 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 work full time. Many of them work six days a week and some seven. They are forced to do so, and often work in places without ventilation, which are poorly lit and guarded by armed men to prevent the minors from escaping.
Regarding WHO's proposals for the future, Archbishop Barragán stressed the importance of "combating poverty with appropriate means within the present globalized economy," in order to create a proper environment for children.
"Today, many children and adolescents are abandoned to themselves and to their instincts," he said, "their environment is the Internet and TV." And there is "no control in the TV programs or Internet," he added.
"Sexual commerce, pedophilia and violence have spread," the archbishop continued.
"Many families have given up their duty to educate," he said. Either because of the parents' work or because of division between them, children lack love, care, personal communication, and formation of their moral conscience, he said. Also in their school education, norms are not taught that might "harm the children's rights to self-determination," he added.
The child "must know who he is, what he wants, what builds him up and what destroys him; and in this complexity he needs clear and firm direction," the archbishop said.
"Affection, love and sure direction, beginning with his parents and the whole family," is the ideal environment for the child's integral development, he said.
The most desirable atmosphere is the "healthy family environment that characterizes a stable and well-founded family that balances all the aspects of the human person's growth," he said.
Archbishop Barragán concluded that "the school, within the educational community that really forms the child, must be the environment that prolongs and enlarges the family itself."