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Urgent steps need to be taken now to achieve SDGs: Unicef

While significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty, 69 million under the age of five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million children will live in poverty, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030 – the timeline set to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals—unless there is focus on the plight of the most disadvantaged children, according to a latest UNICEF report. The State of the World’s Children, 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 organizations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs.

The report notes that 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 learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic. “Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. â€œWe have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

India has much to celebrate in the area of education, particularly in ensuring children’s access to school, through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and implementation of the Right to Education Act. This is reflected in the near-universal enrolment in primary education and the steady decrease in numbers of out-of-school children. The number of out-of-school children between 6 to 13 years has declinedfrom approximately 8 million in 2009 to 6 million in 2014. Yet, challenges still remain.In India, out of 74 million children between 3-6 years, about 20 million were not attending any preschool education in 2014, and it is the children from the poorest families and marginalised communities who are often left behind.

India is also one of the five countries where the highest number of children under-5 die due to preventable causes. The other countries are Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. In 2015, about 1.26 million children below the age of 5 years died of which 57 % were caused due to premature deaths and neonatal infection. Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two major causes of death after one month.   On an average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 per cent. For each additional year of schooling completed by young adults in a country results in a decline of 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 for children.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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