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What will children say about the choices world leaders make this week?

Floating around my Facebook page recently was an idea for a display board in school. The board has a big headline that reads “Meet the person responsible for your…” and underneath that it has mirrors placed under each of these words: choices, actions, words, deeds.

As world leaders descend on the United Nations headquarters this week for the UN General Assembly, I imagined having this board at the entrance for each person to reflect on as they walked in.

The world’s best plan for a brighter, fairer, sustainable future

It is hard to understate how important this week is going to be for the global development community. Heads of state are meeting for the first time since the adoption of Agenda 2030 – which, put simply, is the best plan the world has for a brighter, fairer and sustainable future. The UN has convened the world’s first Summit Week to galvanise and push for accelerated action for the people and the planet.

In 2015, world leaders from both developing and developed countries set out their commitment to collectively end poverty and build the foundations for a more sustainable, peaceful future through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Underpinning this was the pledge to Leave No One Behind, which implicitly recognises that the wave of globalisation and growth of the past 30 years has improved incomes for some but has failed to lift the boat for millions around the world.

Inequalities threaten to undermine progress

Despite progress in reducing child mortality, our new research projects that between 2018 and 2030 an estimated 64 million children will lose their lives before the age of five. More than half of those deaths will be concentrated in only ten countries and over half will be newborn babies. Underlying this finding is another alarming trend: children living in the poorest households are seeing slower rates of progress than those living in richer households across a range of socioeconomic indicators.

Our latest report, Tipping the Balance, illustrates how children from the poorest 20% of households account for 34% of all child deaths and 31% of all cases of stunting. High inequalities exist within countries on the basis of the region where children live: even the richest children in the most disadvantaged regions are more likely to die than the poorest children in more advantaged regions.

Inequalities in child mortality are not unique to low- and middle-income countries. In the UK, children from the most deprived areas of the country are almost twice as likely to die before their first birthday than the most affluent areas.

Our research also shows a steep social gradient in access to healthcare that leads to a double jeopardy for children: those with the highest mortality and stunting rates are those who face the lowest access to services, capturing a less than fair share of health inputs.

Inequality – whether measured by income, geography, gender, ethnicity, disability or other factors – has produced extreme forms of exclusion in societies, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. It has pushed certain groups of children even further behind. This is an affront to the basic principles of fairness, morality and justice. It contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises that all children, no matter where they live or the circumstances in which they are born, have the right to survive, develop and be protected.

Act now

It is clear that business as usual will not deliver the promises that world leaders have made to our children and their children. Policy choices made today can either foster or help to systematically reduce inequalities both within and between countries. The right policy choices can put us on the trajectory to delivering on the SDGs.

At this year’s UNGA, we are calling for a drastic realignment of public policy towards equity. That needs to be a driving principal. We are shining a spotlight on children, especially those who are falling further behind. And we’re calling on all actors to recognise children as agents of change.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” wrote Dr Seuss. All over the world, children and young people are calling on world leaders to take bold, decisive action to address the challenges affecting them. We will not achieve the SDGs and the pledge to Leave No One Behind if we fail to bridge the gap between the most marginalised and deprived children and their more advantaged peers. This means making the SDGs a reality for every last child.


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