New survey reveals a precarious future for our children

By Paul Rowney on 19th Feb 2020

A young person with a protest sign

In a major new global survey conducted by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, a grim picture is painted for how our children will survive in the future.

The report begins: “Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country. In 2015, the world’s countries agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet nearly five years later, few countries have recorded much progress towards achieving them. This Commission presents the case for placing children, aged 0–18 years, at the centre of the SDGs: at the heart of the concept of sustainability and our shared human endeavor.”

Governments must harness coalitions across sectors to overcome ecological and commercial pressures to ensure children receive their rights and entitlements now and a liveable planet in the years to come.

The evidence is clear: early investments in children’s health, education, and development have benefits that compound throughout the child’s lifetime, for their future children, and society as a whole. Successful societies invest in their children and protect their rights, as is evident from countries that have done well on health and economic measures over the past few decades. Yet many politicians still do not prioritize investing in children, nor see it as the foundation for broader societal improvements.

Even in rich countries, many children go hungry or live in conditions of absolute poverty, especially those belonging to marginalized social groups—including indigenous populations and ethnic minorities. High-quality services with universal health-care coverage must be a top priority. The benefits of investing in children would be enormous, and the costs are not prohibitive: an analysis of sustainable development goals (SDGs) suggests a financing gap of US$195 per person.

Even in rich countries, many children go hungry or live in conditions of absolute poverty, especially those belonging to marginalized social groups—including indigenous populations and ethnic minorities.

But investments are not just monetary: citizen participation and community action, including the voices of children themselves, are powerful forces for change that must be mobilized to reach the SDGs. Social movements must play a transformational role in demanding the rights that communities need to care for children and provide for families”.

Based on a wide and complicated series of metrics and sources the Report complied various tables including the ‘Child Flourishing Index’ which looks a huge variety of factors that a country takes to encourage children’s health and development. Every country in the world was ranked, with the USA coming in 39th

(USA 39)
UK 10
Iceland 9
Belgium 8
Japan 7
Denmark 6 0
Ireland 5
France 4
Netherlands 3
South Korea 2
Norway 1

As the table looking at countries and territories on sustainable levels of carbon emissions revealed:
USA 173rd out of 180, Canada 170th and UK 133th

The report concludes: “We live in an era like no other. Our children face a future of great opportunity, but they stand on the precipice of a climate crisis. Our challenge is great and we seem to be paralysed. This Commission proposes a new global movement to place children at the centre of the SDGs. The CRC is the world’s most ratified human rights treaty, showing the power of children to unite us for the common good. Working to improve children’s health and wellbeing can motivate all of us to save our planet for them and ourselves.”

The effort required is enormous, but if we cannot deliver for our children, what is the measure of our civilization?

Such an enormous collective project requires governance. We have laid out the changes to governance required at national, local, and global levels. Given that children’s health and wellbeing is the concern of all sectors”. The report extended the discussion of governance to discuss the regulation of commercial marketing: “The commercial threats to children’s health are dangerously under-appreciated, and we propose strong, specific actions for global and national actors to protect children from rapacious, unregulated commercial practices”.

Finally, the report argues: “what gets measured, gets done. We have taken a hard look at data and accountability under the SDGs, and find that current efforts are severely wanting. Only the participation of citizens, communities, and children themselves can overcome the enormous data gaps for the SDGs, and because the assessment of countries’ performance must include a measure of sustainability to protect our children’s future and their present, we have proposed a children’s flourishing and futures profile to do just that.

Although awed by the scale of our task, this Commission is also optimistic about our chances to change our world for the better, for and with children. It will require bold politicians, courageous community leaders, and international agencies that are willing to radically change the way they work”.

No excuses, and no time to lose.

To read the full report, click here.


(The main funder of this Commission was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

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