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An agenda for children

During the Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration and, subsequently, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): a series of concrete objectives for human development with a deadline of 2015.

Every one of the MDGs is connected to the well-being of children - from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger to protecting the environment for future generations. Furthermore, the Millennium agenda has unified the international community, creating a rare opportunity to improve the lives of children, who now make up more than 40 per cent of the developing world's population and half the population in the least developed countries.

Achieving the MDGs, though not a panacea for childhood's ills, would certainly go a long way towards making the world a better place for children. If the goals are met over the next 10 years, millions of children will be spared illness, premature death, extreme poverty and malnutrition and will gain access to schooling, safe water and decent sanitation facilities. [figure 1.1]

Missing the MDGs, on the other hand, would have devastating implications for the children of this generation, and for the adults they will become if they survive their childhoods. At current rates of progress, for example, 8.7 million children under five will still die in 2015, whereas if the targets were met, 3.8 million of those lives would be saved in that year alone. [figure 1.3]

Meeting the goals is, therefore, a matter of life and death, of development or regression, for millions of children. It will also be crucial to the progress of their countries and societies.

The MDGs can be achieved - but urgent action is required

Though global progress towards the goals since 2000 has fallen below aspirations in some regions and countries, there is a broad consensus that they can still be achieved - in full and on time - provided that the necessary political will is demonstrated and the appropriate action taken.

Over the course of 2005, the Member States of the United Nations have coalesced around a set of key initiatives to accelerate progress towards the MDGs and to ensure that the gains made are sustainable and irreversible. These recommendations - dubbed "quick wins" - call for a massive boost to access to essential services for children and families currently missing out. If implemented, they can provide a vital kick-start to human development and poverty reduction. But they are only an initial step. Longer-term initiatives that are rooted in a human rights-based approach to development, many of which are already under way, must be stepped up or launched as well.

The Millennium agenda: A beginning, not an end

Adopting the recommended immediate interventions and longer-term strategies will increase the chances that the MDGs will be met by 2015. But in spite of the comprehensive nature of these strategies, there are millions of children who may not be reached by these initiatives alone. These are the children who are currently beyond the reach of laws, budgets, programmes, research and, often, the governments, organizations and individuals seeking to fulfil their rights.

Not only do these children face exclusion from essential health-care services, education, safe drinking water and decent sanitation in the present, they are also likely to face exclusion from full participation in society as adults. Many of them suffer from protection violations that heighten the risk of their exclusion and make them, in effect, invisible.

As the world continues to press ahead with policies, programmes and funding to make the vision outlined in the Millennium Declaration a reality, it must not allow these children to be forgotten.