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UNICEF Executive Board

UNICEF Executive Board reaffirms commitment to giving every child a fair chance in life

Watch: Pursuing equity is a right


By Kristin Taylor

NEW YORK, United States of America, 17 June 2015 – As the world enters a new period of development with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this September, UNICEF is reaffirming its commitment to equity as the path to truly sustainable change for children and for societies.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1552/Nesbitt
UNICEF Executive Board’s 2015 Annual Session, Special Session on Equity, 16 June (left to right): Executive Director Anthony Lake, Executive Board President H.E. Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Secretary of the Executive Board Nicolas Pron.

“[N]o real progress can be made for children unless all children, particularly the most disadvantaged and marginalized, are reached throughout the world,” said UNICEF Executive Board President H.E. Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, in her opening statement to the Board, which convened its 2015 Annual Session yesterday at United Nations Headquarters.

In his remarks, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake emphasized why prioritizing equity is so critical to the organization’s mission. “[P]ursuing equity is simply right – an expression of the right that every child has to health, education, protection, survival,” he said. Since the organization’s redoubling of its commitment five years ago to prioritize those children who are most in need, “the strategic importance of an equity focus is also all the more apparent,” he added.

Equity in principle

UNICEF strives to realize a world in which all children have the same chance to survive, develop and reach their full potential, through identifying and removing the avoidable obstacles that prevent too many children from having a fair shot in life.

There are multiple factors that affect a child’s ability to thrive, such as gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, disability status and geographic location.

Often, the reasons that children are at a disadvantage are overlapping and cyclical. Poorer children, for example, are more likely to miss out on education, depriving them of the knowledge necessary to take advantage of greater livelihood opportunities that could, in turn, sow the seeds for a brighter future for their own children.

“[T]he disease of inequality is the product of a vicious intergenerational cycle, in which children denied education, health care, nutrition and protection are also denied a full opportunity to contribute to their own children’s development and, thus, to the narrowing of inequalities and, thus, to the defeat of poverty in all its dimensions,” said Mr. Lake.

Watch: Inequality is one of the biggest risks to child well-being


Progress made, but not equally shared

Nearly 15 years ago, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, ambitious objectives to be achieved by 2015 that would realize a brighter future for all. Collective efforts to achieve the MDGs have yielded significant gains worldwide, but the achievements made on a large scale conceal inequities that continue to threaten the most vulnerable children.

A special focus session on equity, scheduled in connection with the formal plenary meeting of the Executive Board, highlighted the issue. A conference room paper on equity, made available to Board members for review ahead of the session, outlined several examples of successes, as well as the ways in which progress has been unequal, among which:

● Water, sanitation and hygiene: Some 2.5 billion more people have access to improved water sources now than in 1990 – a success that has not reached one in three people in the least developed countries. In that same time frame, 2.1 billion more people gained access to improved sanitation.
● Nutrition: In 2000, one in three children under age 5 suffered from stunting. Although the global ratio had fallen to one in four by 2013, Asia is home to roughly one half of the world’s stunted children, Africa to one third.
● Education: There has been a 45 per cent decline in the number of primary-school-aged children missing out on their right to education since 1999, with 93 per cent of children in that age group now enrolled globally – and with greater parity between girls and boys in every region. But the poorest children are five times more likely to be out of school than the wealthiest.
● Social inclusion: Today, 721 million fewer people live in extreme poverty than in 1990, but of those who still do, 78 per cent live in rural areas, and 47 per cent are children. Overall wealth conceals inequalities in rich countries; by the end of the recent global economic recession, there were 2.6 million more children in poor families in rich countries than there had been before the crisis.

The gap between achievements and lingering challenges raises questions about the long-term effects of the disparities that remain. As Mr. Lake asked, “[H]ow can an economy spark or sustain growth if its citizens are uneducated, or if government services are overwhelmed by illness or unemployment? If, at an early age, its children fail to develop their full cognitive capacity?”

Equity in practice

While the challenges left to be overcome are significant, inequity is not inevitable. In fact, a focus on ending inequalities by reaching the children who have been left behind has the potential to bring about the most significant and sustainable change over the long term.

The 2010 UNICEF study Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals showed that focusing on the most disadvantaged children yielded faster progress in maternal and child health. The approach also showed that this may also be more cost effective, preventing more deaths with the same initial investment of funds. In low-income countries with high rates of mortality, the results of targeting the most vulnerable were especially promising: For every additional US$1 million invested, up to 60 per cent more lives were saved than by using traditional approaches.

Reductions in inequality yield greater results not just for individuals, but also for entire societies. “Sustainable economies can grow if we give every child a fair chance in life. If we reverse the vicious cycle of inequity and inequality by setting in motion a virtuous cycle, by working to invest in every child, everywhere, from the beginning of her life. Greater equity in opportunity today produces fewer inequalities tomorrow,” said Mr. Lake.

Progress that reaches every child

Through their statements, several delegations expressed their agreement that focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable must be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, and that it is an effective path to breaking the intergenerational cycle of inequity that affects millions of children around the world. Delegates spoke of the specific challenges faced by their countries or regions, as well as initiatives taken to address disparities among children.

Guest speaker Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the Ibero-American Secretariat drew on lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean and around the world to highlight the role of equity in reducing the intergenerational transmission of poverty. “Ensuring strong opportunities for every child and protecting them must comprise the mission of the international community,” she concluded. “We have the duty to pursue this dream and make sure we don’t fail any more generations that deserve a fair opportunity to enjoy and contribute to our shared humanity.”

The beginning of the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda and a commitment to equity are all part of a vision for the future of the world’s children. As President Lodhi stated, “It is up to all of us…the Executive Board, Governments, UNICEF, the United Nations family, key partners and communities and children themselves – to ensure that this vision becomes reality.”



UNICEF Photography: UNICEF's Executive Board

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