UNICEF and the Sustainable Development Goals
Investing in children and young people to achieve a more equitable, just and sustainable world for all.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 to end poverty, reduce inequality and build more peaceful, prosperous societies by 2030. Also known as the Global Goals, the SDGs are a call to action to create a world where no one is left behind.
The SDGs cannot be achieved without the realization of child rights. As world leaders work to deliver on the 2030 promise, children around the globe are standing up to secure their right to good health, quality education, a clean planet and more. The leaders of tomorrow, children’s ability to protect the future for us all depends on what we do to secure their rights today.
More than 100 Member States have renewed their commitment to children’s rights in the context of implementing the SDGs. UNICEF works with governments, partners and other UN agencies to help countries ensure the goals deliver results for and with every child – now and for generations to come.
End poverty in all its forms, everywhere.
Poverty denies children their fundamental rights to nutrition, health, water, education, protection, shelter and more – diminishing their ability to build a better future for themselves and generations to come. Without global action, child poverty is likely to entrench social inequality and cut off the most vulnerable girls and boys from the services they need to survive and thrive.
Nearly one in five children – an estimated 385 million – live in extreme poverty worldwide. UNICEF invests in improving social services so that all children can have their basic needs met.
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are better able to grow and learn, to participate in their communities, and to be resilient in the face of disease, disaster and other emergencies.
Worldwide, nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. UNICEF works to lower the barriers to good nutrition, with a focus on preventing all forms of malnutrition – including stunting, wasting and being overweight. We do this to ensure that every child, young person and woman has the nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets they need to reach their full potential.
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages.
More children survive now than ever before. Yet, in 2018 alone, 6.2 million children and young adolescents died, mostly from preventable causes.
UNICEF works around the world to strengthen health systems; immunize and treat children for pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and other health conditions; help countries combat non-communicable diseases; and support children with mental health conditions, developmental delays and disabilities. To end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths and promote the health and development of all children and adolescents, UNICEF continues to scale up work in primary health care at the community level.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
More children and adolescents today are enrolled in pre-primary, primary and secondary education than ever before. And in general, girls and boys attend school in nearly equal numbers. But for many children, schooling does not lead to learning.
Progress improving access to education and the quality of learning has not been even across the world. Making sure that all children can go to school and learn is instrumental to fight poverty, prevent disease and build more resilient and peaceful societies.
UNICEF focuses on equity and inclusion to provide all children – no matter who they are, where they live or how much money their family has – with quality learning opportunities and skills development programmes, from early childhood through adolescence.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Dropping out of school to assume household responsibilities, being pressed into child marriage, experiencing gender-based violence ─ harmful gender norms take many forms.
Gender disparities can start at birth, and they expand as children age. Today, some 650 million girls and women around the world have been married as children, and over 200 million have undergone female genital mutilation.
Gender equality is a human right. It is also a precondition for reducing poverty and advancing development. UNICEF works across the world so that girls and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. We embed gender results across our programming to ensure all children grow, learn and thrive – no matter their gender. Our focuses include positive parenting, adolescent girls’ empowerment, and data analysis to help governments identify barriers to gender equality.
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Contaminated water and poor sanitation are among the leading causes of death for children under 5. Without proper water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), children face an increased risk of preventable diseases and suffer malnutrition, stunting and other critical health issues.
Lack of sanitation and hygiene undermines progress in other areas of development too, like education and gender equality.
UNICEF works to bring clean water and basic sanitation and hygiene facilities to homes, schools and health centres so that children can grow and learn in a safe environment. In 2018, for example, we helped provide safe water to more than 43 million people in humanitarian settings across 64 countries.
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Every year, over half a million children under the age of 5 die from causes related to air pollution. Even more will suffer lasting damage to their developing brains and lungs.
Access to affordable and clean energy is critical to children’s development and well-being. And the benefits of renewable energy go beyond physical health. In addition to preventing the release of toxic fumes, renewable energy can bring lighting and connectivity to areas without power grids. This supports education by allowing school meals to be cooked and solar lanterns to be charged for students’ studies.
UNICEF works with partners to support sustainable energy – providing solar lighting for schools, solar pumps in communities vulnerable to droughts and floods, and other off-grid energy solutions that improve children’s
Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
Today’s global youth unemployment rate is 13 per cent – three times higher than the adult rate. Without urgent investment in education and skills training, the rapidly growing population of young people – expected to reach nearly 2 billion by 2030 – will be largely unprepared for the workforce.
Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 10 children worldwide are subjected to child labour, almost half of whom are in hazardous forms of work. Child labour is both a cause and consequence of poverty, reinforcing social inequality and discrimination. UNICEF works worldwide to prevent and respond to child labour, addressing the impact of supply chains and business practices on children, and providing children with rehabilitation and reintegration services. UNICEF also works with United Nations partners to promote youth skills and employment, including through Generation Unlimited, a partnership that aims to ensure that every young person is in some form of school, learning, training or employment by 2030.
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
Some 4 billion people – nearly a third of them between the ages of 18 and 24 – are unconnected from the internet. This growing population of young people is in danger of being left behind, excluded from the modern digital world and technologies that could dramatically improve their lives.
UNICEF has a long history of applying innovation in development and humanitarian contexts. We’ve worked with partners to develop technologies that keep vaccines cold, identify and treat child malnutrition, and bring safe water to rural communities.
With a dedicated Innovation Fund, UNICEF invests in blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to identify scalable solutions for widespread global challenges.
Reduce inequality within and among countries.
Progress to eradicate poverty has been uneven. Poverty is just one of the reasons children may be cut off from essential care and services. Across the world, girls and boys are also excluded due to discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, language and ethnicity. Marginalization makes it difficult for groups to enjoy progress and escape poverty.
UNICEF invests in social-protection programmes and policies that reduce the lifelong consequences of poverty and discrimination. Social protection – which can come in the form of child grants, school meals, skills development and other types of cash transfer programmes – connects families with health care, nutritious food and quality education to give all children, no matter what circumstances they are born into, a fair chance in life.
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Half of the world’s children live in urban areas. And this number is projected to reach almost 70 per cent by mid-century.
Since 1996, UNICEF has promoted the Child-Friendly Cities Initiative. Together with partners, we support governments to create urban spaces where children can access basic services, clean air and water; and where they feel safe to play, learn and grow. We also help ensure their voices are heard, and their needs are integrated in public policies and budgets.
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Current consumption and production trends continue to create toxic waste and reduce valuable natural resources. Children are the least responsible for environmental degradation, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact – mostly in the form of health and developmental issues.
Decades of evidence shows that widespread behaviour change, such as recycling and using less plastic, often begins with children. This is why UNICEF engages girls and boys to promote responsible, climate-friendly consumption behaviours and set an example for their communities.
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Climate change is a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow and thrive. Close to 90 per cent of the burden of disease attributable to climate change is borne by children under the age of 5.
Today, for the first time, a global generation of children will grow up in a world made far more dangerous and uncertain by changing climate and a degraded environment.
Effective responses to climate change are imperative to protect the world’s children and fulfil their rights. UNICEF works with partners at the global and local level to ensure that children can live in a safe and clean environment. We help make children the centre of climate change strategies and response plans, recognizing them as agents of change who are taking action everywhere to protect the future of our planet.
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
Today, 530 million children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones, and 1 in 4 children will live in areas of extreme water stress by 2040.
The impacts of climate change are being felt around the world. For many children, a change in climate is felt through a change in water.
In times of drought or flood, in areas where the sea level has risen or ice and snow have unseasonably melted, children are being cut off from the water they rely on. Rising sea levels can lead to saltwater infiltrating freshwater sources, rendering the water undrinkable. This is already happening in low-lying coastal areas and Small Island Developing States ─ home to roughly 25 per cent of the world’s population.
UNICEF supports Small Island Developing States and other communities impacted by rising sea levels, higher levels of drought and water stress, heavier rainfall and flooding, and the melting of snow, glacier and sea ice. We do this by ensuring access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; sustainably manage forests; combat desertification; halt and reverse land degradation; and halt biodiversity loss.
Land degradation, together with forest, species and biodiversity loss, is interconnected with climate change and poses a serious threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow and thrive.
While these issues are not central to UNICEF’s programmes, children and youth have expressed in no uncertain terms that protecting and preserving all living things on the planet is important to the well-being of people, prosperity and peace. UNICEF recognizes and encourages the leadership that children and youth are taking to raise awareness and end harm to wildlife and the environment. This is why we engage girls and boys to elevate their voices on environmental issues.
Voices of Youth is a dedicated platform for young advocates to offer inspiring and original insights on issues that matter to them. We also team up with United Nations partners to engage youth through the award-winning Wild for Life campaign to curtail illegal trade in wildlife.
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all; and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
No child should ever be exposed to violence, abuse or neglect. Yet millions of children around the globe continue to face violence in their homes, schools, communities and online. Children uprooted by conflict and disaster are particularly vulnerable to violence, including child labour and other forms of exploitation.
Violence takes many forms: emotional, physical, sexual. And its effects can last a lifetime. Witnessing or experiencing violence erodes a child’s health, well-being and potential.
Governments can offer the first line of defence for children at risk – birth registration systems that give children legal claim to vital social services, equitable justice systems and other forms of child protection.
UNICEF works to end the multiple kinds of violence children face around the world by helping governments build stronger child protection systems – including by supporting health, social work, justice and law enforcement programmes – and challenging existing norms related to violence, exploitation and abuse.
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Partnerships are critical to achieve results for every child. Everyone has a role to play in advancing the SDGs.
UNICEF’s ability to support and empower children and their families depends on our partners, who provide critical resources that enable us to reach children wherever they are. We work with a broad range of partners at the global, regional, country and local levels, across the public and private sectors.
In 2018, for example, our partnerships empowered our work to respond to 285 humanitarian emergencies in 90 countries; support birth in health facilities for 27 million babies; provide three doses of the Pentavalent vaccine for an estimated 65.5 million children; support the education of 12 million children; and help treat 4 million children with severe acute malnutrition.