The future doesn’t look so bright for 180 million children.
Despite major improvements in child well-being around the world over the last 20 years, a recent UNICEF analysis found that children in 37 countries face “bleaker prospects” than their parents in escaping poverty, getting a basic education and avoiding violent death.
“While the last generation has seen vast, unprecedented gains in living standards for most of the world’s children, the fact that a forgotten minority of children have been excluded from this – through no fault of their own or those of their families – is a travesty,” Laurence Chandy, UNICEF director of data, research and policy, said in a press release.
In 2015, the UN celebrated the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the predecessor to the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – as the “most successful anti-poverty movement in history.” A 15-year collaborative push by nations and international organizations lifted more than one billion people out of extreme poverty, almost halved the proportion of people suffering from hunger and enrolled more children in primary school than ever before.
“Yet for all the remarkable gains, I am keenly aware that inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven,” then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the UN’s final report of the MDGs.
But according to UNICEF’s latest analysis, progress isn’t just uneven. It’s in reverse for 1 in 12 children globally.
In 14 countries, the share of people living in extreme poverty (on less than $1.90 a day) has increased, mostly as a result of unrest, conflict or poor governance. Major conflicts in CAR, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen have also caused an increase in violent deaths among children under 19. Meanwhile, financial crises, rapid population growth and conflicts have led to decreased primary school enrollment in 21 countries.
At least one of the three key indicators – escaping poverty, getting a basic education and avoiding violent death – were found to be declining in: Benin, Bolivia, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guatemala, Guyana, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan, Iraq, Kiribati, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Paraguay, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tonga, United Republic of Tanzania, Ukraine, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Three of the 37 countries – CAR, Syria and Yemen – saw a decline in two of the indicators, but South Sudan was the only country in which prospects for children were found to be declining in all three aspects.
The thing is, children are keenly aware of what issues are making the greatest impact on their well-being and futures.
In a separate UNICEF study, 9- to 18-year olds in all of the 14 countries surveyed identified poverty, poor education and terrorism as the foremost issues they wanted global leaders to work on. Also across all 14 countries, violence against children were the respondents’ greatest worry, with 67 percent saying they worried “a lot.”
Sadly, nearly half of the children surveyed are not optimistic that adults and world leaders will make good decisions for children.
“In a time of rapid technological change leading to huge gains in living standards, it is perverse that hundreds of millions are seeing living standards actually decline, creating a sense of injustice among them and failure among those entrusted with their care,” Chandy said. “No wonder they feel their voices are unheard and their futures uncertain.”
There was leeway for uneven progress in many of the MDG targets, but the SDGs put forth ambitious goals for 2030, like “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” “ensure inclusive and quality education for all” and “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children.”
As the global community tries to accelerate progress toward the SDGs, this latest report shows there is no room to leave anyone behind – especially children, who either will be the beneficiaries of a sustainable future, or will have to pick up the pieces.