Unicef meeting is first of its kind
High-ranking government ministers from across Asia gathered in Beijing over the weekend - excluding Western government involvement - to discuss issues of child protection and the promotion of child rights.
In what was the first meeting of its kind, the gathering organised by Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, included 180 government representatives from 28 Asian and Pacific nations to share best practices and learn from other nations' experiences at a three-day conference which ended on Saturday.
'Until now regional co-operation has mainly been regarding trade and finance. There are very few examples of social co-operation,' said Vivek Joshi, joint secretary at India's Ministry of Women and Child Development, who attended the conference as part of his country's delegation.
With the attending countries representing over one billion children, organisers are hoping that open regional discussions will allow progress on common areas of concern related to children's rights. Chief among these are continuing gender disparity, disaster risk reduction, child abuse and human trafficking.
The speeches at the conference left no doubt about the progress still needed, with suggestions that rich-poor and urban-rural disparities that strongly affected young children's lives are increasing across the region.
'What is important about this conference is that it is people who at a regional level have a lot of things in common,' Daniel Toole, regional director of Unicef, said.
It is also a chance for both China and India, the two regional superpowers, to further their ambitions to become de facto leaders of Asia.
'China has taken a good role in organising this event,' said India's Joshi.
'The next conference may be in 2012, and if people agree we will aim to host it.'
Anthony Lake, Unicef executive director, said: 'I believe this is a potentially very significant conference since the nations here represent half the world's child population.'