A new report has found poverty and hardship is taking its toll on the children of Kiribati who make up nearly half the country's population.

The report commissioned by the Kiribati government and UNICEF found nearly 15 percent of under five year olds are underweight and only about a third receive all basic vaccinations.

But child deaths are down and primary school attendance is well above 90 percent.

UNICEF's Nuzhat Shahzadi told Sally Round, continuing high rates of violence are among many pressures on the nation's young.


NUZHAT SHAHZADI: About 19 percent of the children live under the basic national poverty line which means these children face hardship much more than others. And this hardship and poverty level experienced by children are much more among the rural groups, that is the outer islands, and among children of single parents, among children who have more siblings or female headed households. So this impacts their health and well-being. The level of malnutrition is high in Kiribati, a big percentage of children suffer because of their limited access to facilities and services.

SALLY ROUND: We know that Kiribati has among the highest rates of violence against women in the region, how is that impacting on conditions for Kiribati children?

NS: If the normal life gets disrupted, the people who get affected are the most vulnerable, and who are these most vulnerable people? These are the children and especially children below the age of five. They do not come in to life as a person with a holistic development. It impacts their services, their care issues at home, breast-feeding, if a mother is beaten and not supported, abused, she can't even produce milk, you know it's as simple as that.

SR: Your report actually comes up with a figure of 15 percent of children under the age of five as being underweight. Could you put that down to these high rates of violence in the home?

NS: There is a linkage, there's a linkage with violence, there is a linkage of children's access to basic services like safe water, sanitation, food, food security, the overall environment, the protective environment, so those all contribute to this, it's not one factor alone.

SR: Kiribati has noticed in the last 25 years a drop in child mortality, so from 94 deaths per 1,000 to 60 deaths per 1,000, so a drop of 36 percent, so what has the government there or policy makers there been doing right?

NS: I believe that there is a high level political commitment for dealing with these issues. There has been good work done in partnership with the development partners. There has been a lot of advocacy for implementation of the reforms that have been made. And I believe that the government's positive attitude and commitment is there but there has to be more attention given to systematic monitoring of the progress, identifying the bottleneck and discussions and strategies on how to address those bottlenecks.