As that deadline draws near, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has examined global data to determine whether children now have a greater chance to survive and thrive than they did when the goals were set in 2000.
The results, showcased in UNICEF’s Progress for Children report, clearly show that globally, despite significant achievements, millions of the world’s most vulnerable children have not benefitted from development efforts in the past 15 years. We also know that millions of children are still effectively living in low-income countries.
The data, however, show global advancements: Since 1990, half the number of children under five are dying in some countries, nearly 100 million fewer children under five are stunted, the number of people living in extreme poverty has nearly halved, and between 1999 and 2012, the number of primary school-age children out of school, decreased by 45 per cent.
The Ghanaian situation
Here in Ghana, progress is also clear: Children stand a better chance of surviving into adulthood than they did more than a decade ago.
Ghana reached the education Millennium Development Goals well ahead of the 2015 deadline.
By 2011, Ghana had an 84 per cent Net Enrolment Rate in basic school and had reached gender parity in classrooms.
Ghana had made significant progress providing access to improved water sources to 80 per cent of the population.
In July 2015, the Government of Ghana launched a new Child and Family Welfare Policy that builds on the positive traditions and values that protect children in the Ghanaian culture.
But these successes – while impressive – are only part of the story. Circumstances beyond a child’s control – such as gender, place of birth and the social and economic situations of his or her family – continue to deny millions of the most vulnerable children a fair chance to realise their potential.
Areas of the country and large numbers of people are lagging behind and at least one child out of four goes to bed hungry every night in some parts of the country.
Around a million babies are born every year, out of which around 30,000 die in their first 30 days of life. More than half of these newborns die at home, often unseen.
The quality of education in Ghana can be improved. In 2011, just under 60 per cent of students passed the core subjects of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) held at the end of junior high school.
Only 15 per cent of the population have access to adequate sanitation, far below the MDG target of 54 per cent. With diarrhoea killing thousands of children a year, taking sanitation seriously is a central priority to improving the health of Ghana’s children.
Ghana has some laws for the protection of children, however, enforcement remains weak and laws have not been made appropriate for the context.
Poverty reduction and other social advances have not benefited everyone equally.
There are great disparities in income, education, health and nutritional status, as well as in access to safe water and sanitation.
Generally speaking, rural people, girls, women and people without formal education are worse off than those living in urban areas, boys and men and those who have been to school.
The pursuit of the MDGs shows us that equitable progress is possible.
We know, therefore, that a fair start in life for every child is within reach and we know what it will take to achieve this, as stated below:
• Sufficient investments focused on the most disadvantaged children and communities and backed by committed leadership
• Robust data that allow us to identify the most vulnerable children and understand the challenges they face in accessing services
• Innovations, including mobile technology and the rise of social media, that make it more possible than ever, to break geographical barriers and reach excluded children; and
• Stronger systems for health, education, child protection and social protection that target those at greatest risk.
In September, world leaders will again meet to agree to goals for making the world fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful over the next 15 years.
The MDGs provide lessons that can guide this effort. Shame on us if we fail to learn those lessons and if we fail the children the MDGs passed by.
Doing so, we will not only be letting those children down, but their children too.
• The writer is the Resident Representative of UNICEF