Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world’s most disadvantaged children: UNICEF

Making the right choices now can, and will, reverse this fate, new report says
Download a PDF of the report and multimedia content at: http://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFFS4KH

NEW YORK/ SYDNEY, 28 June 2016 – Based on current trends, 69 million children 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 target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – unless the world focuses more on addressing the needs of its most disadvantaged children, according to a UNICEF report released today.
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.
“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fueling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”
The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children 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 what it was in the 1990s. 
However 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 who have had no access to education are almost 3 times more likely to die before they are 5 than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are 2.5 more likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
“UNICEF’s new report shows that a business as usual approach will not produce real results for the world’s most disadvantaged children,” said Adrian Graham, UNICEF Australia CEO. “As the gap between the richest and poorest children widens in Australia and globally, investing in the most disadvantaged is the right thing to do and it will ensure that every child has a fair chance to survive and thrive - in turn, societies and economies will benefit.
“One in six children in Australia alone live in poverty and according to key global indicators, some Australian children are lagging too far behind in health and education, so the outlook for them can and should be significantly better. The newly elected government must place equity at the heart of our agenda for children.”
UNICEF Australia’s 5 Priorities for the newly elected Australian Government are as follows:
  • Reverse the trends of growing child inequality in Australia with particular focus on child poverty, health and education
  • Ensure a fair start in life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children
  • Rebuild Australia’s aid program and target support towards addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged girls and boys in the Asia Pacific region
  • Demonstrate an urgent action plan to ensure refugees on Nauru and Manus Island (including children and families on Nauru) have a viable, permanent resettlement plan that enables them to rebuild their lives
  • Work with civil society on a plan of action to put Australia on track towards meeting SDG targets with a focus on the most disadvantaged 
Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling. At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for:
  • Nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes by 2030
  • More than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school
  • 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty 
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. 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. 
The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. Cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education. On 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 for children.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org.au
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For more information, please contact:
Nicole Lawrence, UNICEF Australia, +61 419 748 624, nlawrence@unicef.org.au
Marixie Mercado, UNICEF New York, +1917 213 5188, mmercado@unicef.org
Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York, +1917 209 1804, nmekki@unicef.org