A Fair Chance for Every Child

28/06/2016 16:19 | Updated 28 June 2016

Every child, no matter where they are born, has the right to a healthy start in life, the right to an education and the right to a safe, secure childhood. But around the world, millions of children are being denied these rights, for no other reason than the country, community, the gender or the circumstances into which they are born. We cannot and we must not let this huge injustice continue.

Today sees the launch of Unicef's State of the world's children report, and as the report shows, unless we redouble our efforts for the world's young, the future of millions of disadvantaged and vulnerable children - and therefore the future of their societies and communities - will be at risk.

Before they draw their first breath, the life chances of poor and excluded children are often being shaped by the world they will be born into. Disadvantage and discrimination against their communities and families determines whether they live or die, whether they have a chance to learn and later earn a decent living. Conflicts, crises and climate-related disasters deepen their deprivation and diminish their potential.

It doesn't have to be this way. In the last 25 years the world has made tremendous progress: children born today are significantly less likely to live in poverty than those born a generation ago. They are over 40 per cent more likely to survive to their fifth birthday and far more likely to be in school.

A key factor in this progress were the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2000, world leaders agreed to ambitious targets that would realise a brighter future for all. The MDGs helped drive tremendous progress for children, proving how much can be achieved by galvanising global efforts around concrete, common goals.

And yet despite all these positives, millions of children have been left behind, and the world must rise to the challenge to reach every child in danger. 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 2.5 times more likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.

The constraints on reaching these children are not technical. They are a matter of political commitment. They are a matter of resources. And they are a matter of collective will -joining forces to tackle inequality by focusing greater investment and effort on reaching the children left furthest behind.

Many of the interventions behind the progress we have made - such as vaccines, oral rehydration salts and better nutrition - are simple, practical and cost-effective. The rise of digital and mobile technology, and other innovations have made it easier and more cost-effective to deliver vital services in hard-to-reach communities and to provide support, assistance and hope for the children and families at greatest risk.

This is the time for action. In 2015, an estimated 5.9million children died before reaching their fifth birthday, mostly as a result of diseases that are cheap and easy to prevent and treat. Millions more children are still denied access to education simply because their parents are poor or from a stigmatised group, because they were born female, or because they are growing up in countries affected by conflict or chronic crises. And even though globally poverty is falling, nearly half of the world's extreme poor are children. Even in most European Union countries, children are at a higher risk of monetary poverty than adults. Here in the UK, the average child poverty rate is almost 5% more than that of adults, a shocking neglect of our future generation.

Last year, world leaders agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of global targets, applying to every country in the world, that aims to create a better, more sustainable future for the world and the world's children, specifically targeting the most vulnerable and hardest to reach.

As governments around the world consider how best to deliver on these commitments to achieve the SDGs, Unicef is calling for a redoubling of efforts to reach every child. There can be no excuse - If we do not hasten our progress, by 2030 an estimated 167million children will be living in extreme poverty. Approximately 69 million children under-five will die between 2016 and 2030, still from mostly preventable causes. And there could still be more than 60million primary-school-aged children out of school.

The good news is that we have the knowledge and the tools to reach the hardest-to-reach children, families and communities, efficiently and cost-effectively. We can stop children being left behind if we work together to tackle inequality head-on. If we don't, we are likely to see hard-won development gains slip away and watch the consequences of this failure play out across the world.

We cannot afford to let history repeat itself. To meet the 2030 SDGs, the pace of progress in the next 15 years will have to be faster than that made towards the MDGs. The consequences and costs of failure are enormous. We cannot let that happen.