Millions of world's poorest children left behind despite progress: Unicef

Millions of world's poorest children left behind despite progress: Unicef
A Nepalese health worker vaccinates a child at a UNICEF field clinic at Kot Danda in Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley on May 6, 2015
PHOTO: AFP

Unicef on Tuesday warned that 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's final report on the child-related Millennium Development Goals, Progress for Children: Beyond Averages, says that despite significant achievements, unequal opportunities have left millions of children living in poverty, dying before they turn five, unschooled and suffering chronic malnutrition.

"The MDGs helped the world realise tremendous progress for children - but they also showed us how many children we have left behind," said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake at a press briefing in New York on Monday.

"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 nearly 6 million 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.

In effect, 58 million children globally don't go to primary school.

The report also highlights the 289,000 women who die every year while giving birth.

Continued failure to reach these children can have dramatic consequences.

At current rates of progress, given the projected global population growth by 2030, the report estimates that:

- 68 million more children under five will die from mostly preventable causes;

- An estimated119 million children will still be chronically malnourished;

- 500 million people will still be defecating in the open, posing serious risks to children's health;

- It will take almost 100 years for all girls from sub-Saharan Africa's poorest families to complete their lower secondary education.

"Especially in typhoon-prone countries like the Philippines, the effects of disasters can offset gains from years of development efforts. In emergencies, and in conflict zones, it is the most marginalised children and families that bear the disproportionate burden of natural hazards, damages to life, livelihood and properties.

Aggravated economic burden can exacerbate poverty, impede survival, development and protection of children," said Unicef Philippines Representative Lotta Sylwander.

"It is imperative that we built in disaster risk reduction, preparedness andappropriate response as an essential part for development planning."

Meanwhile, the report also highlights notable successes since 1990:

- Under-five mortality dropped by more than half; from 90 to 43 per1,000 live births; · Underweight and chronic malnutrition among children under fivedecreased by 42 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively;

- Maternal mortality has decreased by 45 per cent;

- Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources.

The gaps between the poorest and the wealthiest are also 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.

"Unicef will continue to work with the Philippine government to help strengthen local health,education and social protection systems to help more children to survive andthrive. Smarter investments tailored to poverty reduction and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable children can yield short and long-term dividends, and this is a global objective of Unicef's work with governments across the world," Sylwander added.

As world leaders prepare to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, the most disadvantaged children should be at the heart of the new goals and targets, Unicef said. Better data collection and disaggregation - going beyond averages such as those used to measure the MDGs - can help identify the most vulnerable and excluded children and where they live.

"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," Lake said, adding that greater equity in opportunity for today's children means less inequality and more global progress tomorrow.

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