The Millennium Declaration and Development Goals: A Blueprint for Progress
In September of 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in human history gathered for the Millennium Summit at United Nations headquarters in New York. In that pivotal year, representatives from 189 Member States of the United Nations met to reflect on their common destiny. The nations were interconnected as never before, with increased globalization promising faster growth, higher living standards and new opportunities.
Yet their citizens’ lives were starkly disparate. As some States looked ahead to prosperity and global cooperation, many barely had a future, being mired in miserable, unending conditions of poverty, conflict and a degraded environment. Some 1.1 billion people were – and still are – forced to live on less than $1 a day, and 30 per cent of these are children. Even in the world’s richest countries, one in every six children still lives below the national poverty line.
A further look at humanity’s challenges: Almost 11 million children, more than 29,000 a day, die before the age of five, mostly from preventable causes. Those that survive suffer other consequences: malnutrition leading to stunting and disability, a lack of access to health care and education, and an increased risk of suffering from exploitation, violence and HIV/AIDS.
A UNICEF-sponsored study by the University of Bristol and the London School of Economics concluded that over 1 billion children –more than half the children in developing countries – suffer from at least one form of severe deprivation. Such as:
*One in every three children in the developing world – over 500 million children – has no access whatsoever to sanitation facilities; one in five has no access to safe water.
*Over 140 million children in developing countries – 13 per cent of those aged 7 to 18 years – have never attended school. This rate is 32 per cent among girls in sub-Saharan Africa, where 27 per cent of boys also miss out on schooling, and 33 per cent among rural children in the Middle East and North Africa.
*AIDS has killed one or both parents of an estimated 15 million children worldwide; 12 million of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of orphaned children is projected to exceed 25 million by the end of the decade. (UNAIDS, July 2004)
To begin addressing these crises back in 2000, the convened leaders set down the Millennium Declaration, a series of collective priorities for peace and security, poverty reduction, the environment and human rights – essential steps for the advancement of humankind, as well as for the immediate survival for a significant portion of it. Human development, they agreed, is the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries, as well as contributing to global security.
But how would the world community achieve these priorities? Following further meetings with many world agencies, the delegation also drew up a blueprint for a better future: the Millennium Development Goals. By 2015, the leaders pledged, the world would achieve measurable improvements in the most critical areas of human development. The goals establish yardsticks for measuring these results, not just for developing countries but for countries that help to fund development programmes and for the multilateral institutions, like the World Bank or the United Nations Development Programme, that help countries implement them.
The Millennium Development Goals Set Priorities for Children
Though the Goals are for all humankind, they are primarily about children. Why:
Because six of the eight goals relate directly to children. Meeting the last two will also make critical improvements in their lives.
Because meeting the Goals is most critical for children. Children are most vulnerable when people lack essentials like food, water, sanitation and health care. They are the first to die when basic needs are not met.
Because children have rights. Each child is born with the right to survival, food and nutrition, health and shelter, an education, and to participation, equality and protection – rights agreed to, among others, in the 1989 international human rights treaty the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention has been ratified by 192 states, every country in the world except two. The Millennium Development Goals must be met for these basic human rights to be realized.
Because reducing poverty starts with children. Helping children reach their full potential is also investing in the very progress of humanity. For it is in the crucial first years that interventions make the biggest difference in a child’s physical, intellectual and emotional development. And investing in children means achieving development goals faster, as children constitute a large percentage of the world’s poor.
That’s where UNICEF comes in. As a UN organization, UNICEF is the only inter-governmental agency devoted exclusively to children and is mandated by the world’s governments to promote and protect children’s rights and their well being. Along with other UN agencies and global partners, UNICEF has taken the Goals as part of its mandate. From working with local policymakers toward health care and education reform to delivering vaccines, each UNICEF action is a step toward a Millennium Development Goal.