World leaders are setting out a roadmap for human progress over the next 15 years. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals, these new global targets will drive investment and action in virtually every country on earth, touching millions of lives. That is why it is vital that every child, girls and boys alike, is included – and that children everywhere are at the heart of the new global agenda.
The world has more than 7 billion people of whom 2.2 billion are children. Three quarters of these children, and growing, live in Asia and Africa. Hundreds of millions of these children face the grimmest of life situations and are at risk of unbearable harm with immediate, intermediate and longer term consequences for their life outcomes or well-being. Normatively “at risk” implies exposure or vulnerability to factors or conditions that lead to poor or negative life outcomes whether immediate or in the future. Risk factors are numerous and may include:
- The prospect or actual lack of parental care – An estimated 151 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents, 10% of whom, at least 13 million, have lost both parents.
- Poverty – According to UNICEF, over 570 million children live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.
- Poor health status, including maiming or disability of the parents, predisposing children to loss of parental care. Upwards of 20 million children, of whom 15 million are in Sub-Sahara Africa, have been orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS.
- Social cultural practices, including migration, lone parenthood, family breakdown, divorce and remarriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, boy preference, teenage pregnancy, gender inequalities the inferior status of women, social, economic or other exclusion, etc.
- Violence, including psychological, physical or sexual violence, or neglect. Violence against children includes all forms of physical, sexual and mental violence, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, harm or abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labor, cyber abuse and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage. Violence affects over one billion children every year and is estimated to cost up to US$7 trillion annually (8% of global GDP).
- Economic and political factors, including state collapse or failure, civil war and armed conflict, etc., which may lead or contribute to the displacement of populations, the death of parents, loss of economic opportunity.
- Religious and other identity-based ideology, including, the rise of extremist ideology, discrimination and conflict based on identity.
- Natural disasters – can contribute to loss of parents, displacement, loss of economic activity, loss of social support systems and other capital.
While there has been an assumption that poverty is the single largest risk factor for vulnerability, in reality, a combination of factors are interlinked and work together.
The SDGs present a promising and comprehensive framework for addressing risk to children’s well-being. Collectively, the 17 SDGs emphasize a concern for human dignity and well-being, including children’s dignity and well-being, which is at the very core of development. Within the ambit of the SDG framework, significant innovation is needed in order to most appropriately assign resources. While individual goals may speak to broad ambitions and a set of indicators to deliver to children, it will be important that actors urgently map critical pathways to alleviate children’s vulnerability. End Child Poverty which is part of the The Moral Imperative initiative High Level panel forum seeks to explore, among others, how best to reflect the reality of children at risk within the framework of Sustainable Development Goals and within the individual and collective agency of governments, faith leaders, and actors in international development.