In the latest State of the World’s Children Report released in Mumbai, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has warned that 69 million children under five will die from preventable causes if the world does not focus more on disadvantaged people and take action.
The report released by Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao also said based on current trends, 167 million children will live in poverty and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030, the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals, if no action is taken.
UNICEF’s annual flagship report, paints a stark picture of what is in store for the world’s poorest children if governments, donors, businesses and international organisations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs.
The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting them into school and lifting people out of poverty.
Global under-five mortality rates have been more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half of what it was in the 1990s.
But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report says. The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.
Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
Although education plays a unique role in levelling the playing field for children, the number of children who do not attend school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning.
Globally, about 124 million children today do not go to primary and lower-secondary school, and almost 2 in 5 who do finish primary school have not learnt how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.
Acknowledging education to be one of the key instruments
in promoting equity, the focus of the report launch in India was on education.
The report was digitally released by the Governor at Raj Bhavan.
It points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. Globally, cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education.
On an average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 per cent. And for each additional year of schooling completed, on average, by young adults in a country, that country’s poverty rates fall by 9 per cent.
Inequity is neither inevitable, nor insurmountable, the report argues. Better data on the most vulnerable children, integrated solutions to the challenges children face, innovative ways to address old problems, more equitable investment and increased involvement by communities – all these measures can help level the playing field, it says.
Rao said “Providing every child with a fair chance is the essence of equitable development. As this report shows us, promoting equity is a practical and strategic imperative to reduce the inequalities that undermine our society.”
“I am confident that the government will take note of the report, as it shares UNICEF’s vision of a fair chance for every child. A different and better future is possible for children from disadvantaged sections if we employ a multi- sectoral approach, invest in equity and strive to find new ways of financing efforts to reach them,” he said.
Swadheen Kshatriya, Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, said “The government of Maharashtra is committed to address all needs of minus 9 months to 5 year age group children. We have already initiated various steps to address the healthcare, nutrition, education and protection needs of both mothers and children.”
“We are also committed to integrate our efforts across all sectors to tackle any kind of deprivation that can inversely affect the mothers or children. To take our efforts further we are keen to adopt Comprehensive Maternal Infant Young Child Nutrition policy.
Rajeshwari Chandrasekar, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Maharashtra, said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
“I believe that what happens in early childhood does not stay in childhood. The experiences children have in their early lives and the environments in which they have them exert a lifelong impact,” she said.