Over half a billion children live in countries that are falling significantly short of globally agreed goals on health, education and violence.
The first report into the Sustainable Development Goals, published by UNICEF, estimates that on average an extra 800,000 children under five will die every year between now and 2030 if targets are not met. A further 31 million will suffer severe physical and developmental impairment due to stunting.
The study also estimates that some 520 million children live in countries which are not collecting sufficient data to measure progress.
“We didn’t realize quite how bad progress was,” said Mark Hereward, Associate Director of Data and Analytics at UNICEF. “It’s shocking. We need to see a tidal change in political commitment to take ownership of the SDGs.”
While part of the data gap stems from fragile states and imperfect data collection in the global south, many developed countries are failing to collect and publish data in line with UN targets.
“The big data gaps that we have in industrialized countries in Western Europe and North America need to be addressed urgently. Countries not used to reporting on global goals need to change the way that they approach reporting,” Hereward added.
The report calls for strengthened data systems, greater emphasis on national reporting against the agenda each year, and the development of international standards for data collection.
Specific goals fare worse than others. The target of ending child marriage will not be met at the current rate of progress, with an estimated 150 million more girls to be married before the age of 18 by 2030.
Aims to eliminate violence against children are also off track. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s children live in countries without comparable data on violent discipline, while no country with trend data is on track to eliminate violent discipline by 2030.
Veronica Yates of Child Rights International Network told Apolitical, “It’s not surprising. As we saw with the Millennium Development Goals, this process of a tick-box exercise to solve global problems does not work – especially when it is not legally binding. “There is a belief that the charitable approach and the ‘poor little child’ approach work effectively, but we believe this is delaying the realisation of children’s rights. This is exactly what we are seeing in the SDGs.”
On average, between 75 per cent and 80 per cent of indicators in any country either have insufficient data or show insufficient progress. Vulnerable demographics including migrant children, ethnic minorities and children with disabilities are particularly at risk from under-reporting. Children in rural or undeveloped areas are likely to bear the brunt of sluggish progress. Compared to urban areas, around 50 per cent more children in rural settings will miss out on the 2030 goals.
Daniela Ligiero, CEO of Together for Girls, said: “Without solid information, you end up putting limited resources into the wrong kinds of programs.”