Millions of the world’s poorest children will be left behind: UNICEF

THE global community will fail millions of children if it does not focus on the most disadvantaged in its new 15-year development roadmap, UNICEF warned today.

Progress for Children: Beyond Averages, UNICEF’s final report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) says that despite significant achievements unequal opportunities have left millions of children living in poverty, dying before they turn five, without schooling and suffering chronic malnutrition.

“The MDGs helped the world realise tremendous progress for children but they also showed us how many children we are leaving behind,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.

“The lives and futures of the most disadvantaged children matter – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their families, their communities and their societies.”

Disparities within countries have left children from the poorest households twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and far less likely to achieve minimum reading standards than children from the richest households.

Continued failure to reach these children can have dramatic consequences. At current rates of progress, given projected population growth, it is estimated that:

· 68 million more children under five will die from mostly preventable causes by 2030;
· An estimated 119 million children will still be chronically malnourished in 2030;
· Half a billion people will still be defecating in the open, posing serious risks to children’s health in 2030;
· It will take almost 100 years for all girls from sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest families to complete their lower secondary education.

The report highlights notable successes since 1990:

· Under-five mortality dropped by more than half, from 90 per 1,000 live births to 43 per 1,000 live births;
· Underweight and chronic malnutrition among children under five decreased by 42 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively;
· Maternal mortality decreased by 45 per cent;
· Some 2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.

And the gaps between the poorest and the wealthiest are narrowing in more than half of the indicators UNICEF analysed:

· In many countries, greater gains in child survival and school attendance are seen in the poorest households.
· The gap in maternal mortality rates between low- and high-income countries halved between 1990 and 2013, from 38 times higher to 19 times higher.

The report also highlights the bad news: Progress still eludes the nearly six million children who die every year before their fifth birthday, the 289,000 women who die every year while giving birth and the 58 million children who don’t go to primary school.

UNICEF Australia Head of Advocacy Aivee Robinson said of the bad news, too much of it was close to home.

“In Indonesia, there are still 1,335,753 primary-school aged children not in school today and fewer than half the country’s secondary school-age population are receiving the basic education they need to lift themselves, and their family, from poverty,” Ms Robinson said.

“These inequities begin at birth and develop into vicious cycles of deprivation that affect children’s lives today, and echo through generations – threatening national stability and prosperity,” she said.

UNICEF has called for world leaders to put children at the heart of new goals and targets when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are announced later this year, pointing to the need for better data; stronger local health, education and social protection systems; and, smarter investments tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable children.

“The SDGs present an opportunity to apply the lessons we have learned and reach the children in greatest need – and shame on us if we don’t,” Dr Lake said. “Greater equity for today’s children means less inequality and more global progress tomorrow.”

Image: Indonesia has the third highest number of unimmunised children (unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated) in the world, according to the 2012 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-2601/Syzdlik

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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