While 600 million children under the age of 18 lack access to one of these basic human needs, more than 350 million are deprived of two or more of these needs, said Growing up in Asia in a report released on Monday from the child humanitarian organisation Plan.

Plan said half of Asia's families were not benefiting from economic growth and globalisation. It blamed the pressure of rapid population growth on scarce resources; lack of access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation; caste discrimination; and weak governance and corruption.

Debt burden

"Asia has more than twice as many severely deprived children as sub-Saharan Africa. This scale of child poverty will have a serious impact on Asia's future prospects, unless it is addressed now," Michael Diamond, Plan's Asia regional director, said in a news release.

India accounts for the largest
number of poor children

The report said that to combat poverty, the international community needed to reduce subsidies given to US, European and Japanese farmers and forgive billions of dollars in debt. It also said richer countries could help by paying more for the goods they bought from developing countries.

Plan has pledged to invest $1 billion on poverty reduction across 12 Asian countries over the next decade.

"We are talking about a very, very serious problem that because it has not been addressed in the past, is getting more and more serious and compounding every single day that it goes without the proper attention," Plan's Chief Executive Officer Tom Miller said at a press conference on Monday.

Indian poor

The report said that India had the largest number of poor children of any nation, with an estimated 80% of its 400 million children severely deprived and 60% absolutely poor. Almost half of all children under 5 were malnourished and a third of newborns were significantly underweight.

Cataloguing the miseries, Plan said that India also had the largest number of working children in the world and accounted for 20% of the world's out of school children.

"Asia has more than twice as many severely deprived children as sub-Saharan Africa"

Michael Diamond, 
Asia regional director of Plan

"A child's gender, class and caste have a significant influence on her or his well-being. Girls' life chances, in particular, are often severely limited," the report said.

In contrast, China has made "great strides in poverty reduction in recent years", with only an estimated 13 million deprived children out of a child population of 380 million.

"Education and health levels in China are also higher than in many countries with equivalent income. But these improvements are not equally distributed," the report said, with western China and rural areas in general being significantly worse than eastern and urban regions.

Central Asia

Plan identified Central Asia as another bleak spot for Asia's children, saying their conditions had worsened since the region gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Before 1991, the socialist system provided support for poorer families through cash payments, and income was more equally distributed.

Since then the region, where market economies are now the rule, have experienced rising levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty and massive reductions in public outlay for health and education.

"Children have suffered most," the report said.