by Whitner Chase, Humanitas Global
Today is International Youth Day, an opportunity to celebrate health and happiness of the smallest generation. We often hear that “children are the future,” and thankfully, two of the eight Millennium Development Goals focused solely on youth – specifically, education and child mortality. In acknowledgement of this important day, I will briefly review progress made on these two MDGs, and outline the main points of improvement in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Before the UN rolled out the MDGs fifteen years ago, enrollment rate of children in primary school was at approximately 80% across all developing regions. Today, that number is over 90%, leaving about 57 million children out of school (which still seems like a lot, though this number was 100 million in 2000). According to the MDGs, universal primary education (Goal 2) will be achieved when 97% of children are enrolled in school, and although that number has only been attained in a couple of regions, many are on the verge of crossing the threshold. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the most improvement, jumping from 60% to 80% since 2000.
Goal 4, reducing the mortality rate by two thirds for children under five years of age, has proved more difficult to handle, due to the diversity of health issues that can manifest during this critical period in a child’s life. Hunger, malnutrition, disease, and a myriad of other issues drive this struggle. However, it is good news that many of these problems are preventable; increasing access to the solution is the main challenge. Although the two thirds reduction rate was not achieved, child mortality has been reduced by over 50%, a testament to both the progress made over the past 15 years and the ambitious nature of the MDGs. As with the Goal 2 targets, many geographic regions will cross the target threshold soon, mostly thanks to the increase in readily available immunizations that will help prevent diseases like measles. See the 2015 MDG Report for all of the Goal 2 and 4 statistics in context.
The SDGs that build on the progress from these two MDGs are numerous, and are listed below. I have also included a potential challenge that must be overcome for each goal to be achieved.
- 2.2 Achieve by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age
- Providing access to sustainable food options in poverty-stricken areas is a perennial challenge
- 3.2 by 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and under-five children
- Sustainably increasing the percentage of government spending on healthcare will be a major challenge
- 4.1 by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
- In order to provide free education for all by 2030, governments will be burdened by education spending
- 4.2 by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
- One challenge is to make this actionable – a definition of “quality” seems warranted
- 4.4 by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
- Finding a way to measure this goal may be its most challenging aspect
- 4.6 by 2030, ensure that all youth and at least x% of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
- Reaching older adults should be difficult, as existing vehicles for literacy, i.e. school, mainly target youth
- 5.3 Eliminate child marriage
- Creating widespread cultural change within the given 15-year period will be extremely difficult
- 8.6 by 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training
- One big challenge will be in defining the labor force, especially in rural areas
- 8.b by 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the ILO Global Jobs Pact
- Making global strategies actionable on the ground is a constant challenge
- 8.7 End child labour by 2025
- Increasing household income so children can attend school is a potential solution, but poverty relief presents many more challenges
- 16.2 end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children
- Achieving this goal demands lasting synergy among efforts in education, corruption, and legislation
On International Youth Day, we recognize that children inherit the world we give them. In many cases, the youth we work to support will be striving for the same causes alongside us long before the SDGs conclude in 2030. It is both exciting and relieving that the SDGs will take on youth-specific issues such as child labor, child marriage, and youth employment, going well beyond child mortality and primary education. In order to meet these goals on time, it is imperative to identify the obstacles that stand in their way and prepare for them accordingly. The SDGs are ambitious, but they prioritize youth to a degree that is necessarily high. But with the right preparation, anything is possible.