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Children left behind by MDGs

A young child writes out his homework on the sidewalk in Phnom Penh earlier this year. As of 2014
A young child writes out his homework on the sidewalk in Phnom Penh earlier this year. As of 2014, the Kingdom’s primary school enrollment rate was over 97 per cent. Vireak Mai

Children left behind by MDGs

Nearly 15 years ago, the global community rallied behind eight goals in the hopes of building a better world. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set measurable targets and a 2015 deadline for achieving them.

As that deadline draws near, UNICEF has examined global data to determine whether children now have a greater chance to survive and thrive. The results, showcased in UNICEF’s global report Progress for Children, show that significant achievements have been made in many countries.

However, the picture is a mixed one wherein increases to national averages disguise a stagnation or even worsening of the situation for children at the sub-national level – leaving millions of the world’s most vulnerable children well behind the development of the past 15 years.

In Cambodia, impressive progress at national level is clear:

• National net enrolment rate in public and private primary schools has increased from 87 per cent to 97.9 per cent between 2001 and 2014.

• The under-5 mortality rate has been reduced in the past 15 years from 124 deaths per 1,000 live births to 35/1,000.

• The national poverty rate has gone down from 47.8 per cent in 2007 to 18.9 per cent in 2012.

• The rate of fully vaccinated children aged 12-23 months increased from 39.9 per cent in 2000 to 73.4 per cent in 2014.

These successes – while inspiring – are only part of the story. Circumstances beyond a child’s control – such as gender, place of birth, ethnic origin and the social and economic situation of family – continue to deny the most vulnerable children a fair chance to realise their potential.

For example, globally, children from the poorest households are more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as children from the wealthiest.

Inequities are also clear in Cambodia:

• Progress in reducing preventable deaths among under-5 children has not been equitably achieved. In Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces, the rate is still high at 118 deaths per 1,000 live births, while in Phnom Penh, the rate is much lower at 18/1,000.

• The rate of stunting among under-5 children in urban areas is 23.7 per cent, while in rural areas, the rate is higher at 33.8 per cent.

• Astounding geographical poverty disparities remain: 28.8 per cent poverty rate in Oddar Meanchey, 28.7 per cent in Preah Vihear, 1.1 per cent in Phnom Penh.

• Tens of thousands of vulnerable children continue to live in orphanages and institutions, despite having living parents or family members who, with social protection support, are best placed to provide care and loving homes to them.

Inequities begin at birth and develop into vicious cycles of deprivation that affect children’s lives today,
and echo through generations – threatening national stability and prosperity.

The pursuit of the MDGs show us that equitable progress is possible. For example, gender parity in primary school enrolment in Cambodia has been achieved (98.8 per cent among girls).

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:

• Sufficient investments and a clear commitment to social protection support 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 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 sit down to agree to a set of development goals for making the world fairer and more prosperous over the next 15 years.

The achievement of MDGs in Cambodia provide lessons that can guide this effort.

Implementation in Cambodia of the Sustainable Development Goals will need to draw on those lessons and to ensure that all children are reached, giving every child – regardless of where they live – the same opportunities to thrive and reach their fullest potential. Failing to do so, will not only be letting those children down, but their children too.

Rana Flowers is the UNICEF representative to Cambodia.

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