Almost 60 per cent of child-focused SDGs are off track in Latin America and the Caribbean

On World Children’s Day, UNICEF urges accelerated action to realize children’s rights

20 November 2023

PANAMA CITY, 20 November 2023 – Most child-related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators are off-pace to meet their targets by the 2030 deadline in Latin America and Caribbean, UNICEF warned on World Children’s Day.

At the current pace, the region will not achieve 58 per cent of the indicator targets related to children’s rights and well-being, according to UNICEF analysis of available data. In the past few decades, Latin America and Caribbean has had one of the slowest rates of progress towards the child-focused SDGs, second only to the Middle East and North Africa.

While Latin America and Caribbean is a top performer in some indicators – including recording the biggest decline in child deaths in the last 30 years – the region lags far behind in others. For example, the region has the second highest estimated learning poverty rate – 10-year-olds who are unable to read a simple text – and the second highest adolescent birth rate after sub-Saharan Africa. The region’s child marriage rate has remained unchanged for three decades. And two in three of the region’s children experience violent discipline at home.

“As of now, most child-related SDGs won’t be met by 2030 in Latin America and Caribbean. While this region has been a global success story in reducing child deaths, it is failing children and adolescents on far too many other fronts. It’s unacceptable that most of the region’s 10-year-olds can’t read a simple text and that millions of girls are brides and mothers. For countries to make progress, they must realize the rights of all children, without discrimination. If we leave children behind, the whole region falls behind with them,” said Garry Conille, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The region was already lagging behind on the SDGs before COVID-19. But the pandemic and prolonged lockdowns took a heavy human toll on the region, widening existing gaps in children’s well-being. Slow economic growth, inflation and other global crises have set the Latin America and the Caribbean further off course. The region’s progress is also weighed down by persisting inequalities that disproportionately affect indigenous children, afro-descendant children, and children with disabilities.

“In Latin America and the Caribbean, we can reach those children currently being left behind. In the last few decades, this region has proven it can be a world leader in increasing child survival. We need to harness that same level of political will, expertise and resources to ensure boys and girls not only survive but grow up to be healthy, productive, and engaged citizens,” said Conille.

To accelerate progress on child-related SDG indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNICEF reiterates its call on countries to:

  • Build political commitment at the national level. Governments should significantly increase and safeguard social spending in areas such as health, education, and social protection.
  • Prioritize knowledge and evidence for children. Enhance country-led data generation, monitoring, and use, in collaboration with partners.
  • Make financing systems work to accelerate progress. Explore innovative national and international financing options that prioritise results, emphasise equity and effectiveness, and promote multisectoral approaches.

Notes to editors:

In Latin America and the Caribbean:

  • The number of under-five deaths dropped by 76 per cent from 650,000 in 1990 to 155,000 in 2021, according to United Nations estimates.
  • As many as four out of five 10-year-olds are unable to read a simple text, according to World Bank estimates.
  • The adolescent birth rate is 53 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 years, according to United Nations estimates.
  • One in five girls – approximately 58 million of them - are married or in a union by age 18, according to available survey data.
  • Two in three children experience violent discipline at home according to UNICEF estimates.

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