No Mere 'Talking Shop' - the High Level Panel Could Save Children's Lives

31/10/2012 16:01 GMT | Updated 30/12/2012 10:12 GMT

As David Cameron welcomes global leaders and policy experts from around the world to London this week (31 Oct-2 Nov) to help shape what comes after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is a good time to take stock of what has been achieved so far... and what has not.

For millions of people living in poverty around the world, the deliberations of the high level panel which the UK prime minister is co-chairing is no mere talking shop. It is really no exaggeration to say that international commitments like the MDGs mean the difference between life and death for many of those living in the nearly 100 countries where World Vision works.

In Honduras, earlier this month, an eight-year-old boy was shot dead along with his father and step-mother in an area where we work. In a separate incident, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead as he left a church. No one has yet been apprehended for these crimes, but they are believed to be related to land disputes. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations, but increasing insecurity and violence is a trend in many countries, something our youth consultations show to be of increasing concern for young people. Indeed, last week, a group of children from a sports club in eastern DRC were taken hostage on a day trip.

The MDGs have seen progress for many living in poverty around the world, which should be celebrated, but it is the most vulnerable and most poor - often in fragile and weak states - who leaders gathered in London next week need to keep at front and centre of their discussions.

Earlier this year, I visited Afghanistan myself and saw at first hand why building peace and strengthening state institutions is crucial to the wellbeing of children....and why these goals must be included in the post-MDG framework being discussed by the panel in London.

While in Afghanistan, I visited a tiny maternity unit in the west of the country where new midwives are being trained. Many take up work in remote parts of the country such as Ghor province. It has a population the size of Leeds but, a few years ago, it didn't have a single trained midwife.

By supporting the existing, yet under-resourced health infrastructure, World Vision helped equip traditional birth attendants with expert knowledge and skills that they could then pass on to their colleagues.

Midwives are crucial to protecting children. Without trained birth attendants, mothers are much more likely to die in child-birth leaving their babies extremely vulnerable to death and disease.

This is a simple example, but it is emblematic of how working to strengthen existing state institutions can diminish the vulnerability of children, women, people with disabilities and minority groups.

The MDGs were perhaps least successful in addressing inequality. They were blind to the differences between countries and did not provide incentives for governments to reach out to their most vulnerable - and often hardest to reach - people. Rising levels of inequality around the world have shown that while development and economic growth have improved the lives of millions of poor people, the poorest have not benefited.

This is why World Vision firmly believes that while we accelerate efforts towards achieving the current MDGs, the discussions around the next generation of development goals must capture the pursuit of equity with the same clarity that the MDGs brought to the reduction of poverty. Those affected by fragility and conflict have proved to be the hardest to reach, because of the very context of the places they live. A focus on equity will force us to start with those who have not been helped through the current Millennium Development Goals. Children are often the most vulnerable and difficult to reach.

Globally, some great initiatives have been introduced, aimed at increasing participation of the most vulnerable children. We have seen children in Albania form a national coalition to submit a child-led report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. At national level, children in India are part of ongoing monitoring of health centres, youth in Brazil have formed groups to monitor the implementation of public policies, and girls and boys from rural communities in El Salvador are engaged in local level social accountability projects. In Geneva, children have been brought into country review processes at the Human Rights Council, so they can be a tangible part of holding their governments to account on their rights.

Involving children in the discussions that affect them truly changes the outcomes. Ensuring that those discussions are focused on the most poor and the most vulnerable will guarantee that this week's meeting has the lasting effects on children's lives that those gathered must surely want.