© UNICEF/INDA2014–00687/Singh

Progress for children

The past 15 years — and what remains to be done

Nearly 15 years ago, world leaders developed the Millennium Development Goals, ambitious objectives to be achieved by 2015 that would realize a brighter future for all. While collective efforts to achieve those goals have yielded significant gains worldwide, millions of the world’s most vulnerable children still need to be reached.

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Achievements include more children surviving past their fifth birthdays, fewer cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, improvements in child nutrition, higher rates of enrolment in primary school, greater access to clean water and lower rates of extreme poverty. A boy, 4, in Uzbekistan.

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New HIV infections among children under age 15 have declined by 58 per cent since 2001. In South Africa, where Nonhlanhla Dubazane is living with HIV, antiretroviral treatment has allowed her to breastfeed safely 6-month-old Answer, who remains healthy and HIV-free.

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In the past two decades, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water, but progress has not been equally shared. Some 90 per cent of people who still rely on the use of surface water live in rural areas. A water point in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

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Children from the poorest households remain twice as likely as their richest peers to die before reaching their fifth birthday. Alice Mansaray and her newborn at a hospital in Sierra Leone. She has had six pregnancies but has only three surviving children.

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Shari, 13, collects rubbish to support her family, including her sick mother, in Kenya. Only 17 per cent of people were living on less than US$1.25 per day, as of 2011 — compared to 44 per cent in 1990 — but 47 per cent of the world’s extreme poor are children under the age of 18.

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The number of children who die before reaching age 5 has been halved since 1990, but much more progress is needed to ensure that every child’s right to survival and development is fulfilled. At a hospital in Sierra Leone, a nurse wraps the bodies of deceased children.

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In the past 25 years, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation, but one in seven people around the globe still practises open defecation. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, villagers discuss ways to prevent the spread of disease caused by that practice.

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Born with HIV, Lina [NAME CHANGED], 16, is among nearly 17.7 million children orphaned by AIDS-related causes, as of 2013. Her younger brother also died. “We were orphans and very poor,” she said. She now receives vocational training, in the United Republic of Tanzania.

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Deprivations during critical stages of development can lead to disadvantage over the course of a lifetime. An infant, who was born in a camp for internally displaced people, sleeps in her family’s tent, in the Syrian Arab Republic.

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The number of children out of school has fallen from 106 million in 1999 to 58 million in 2012. But with population growth considered, if our rate of progress remains the same, roughly as many children will be out of school in 2030 as there are today. A girl heads home after school, in Ethiopia.

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The rate of stunting, chronic malnutrition that hampers physical growth and can permanently impede cognitive development, has fallen by 41 per cent since 1990. Health workers measure 3-year-old Erlan Bernoupereinev’s height and weight, in Uzbekistan.

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But if we continue at our current rate of progress, there will still be 119 million stunted children by 2030. In India, Bharati Whagoshkar and her 24-day-old baby both benefit from a programme to combat undernutrition in young children through health education and essential services.

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Achievements made on a large scale often conceal inequalities that continue to threaten the most vulnerable children. If they are left behind, sustainable progress will not be possible. A child-friendly space offers psychosocial support for refugee children, in Uganda.

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As we look toward the future, the next 15 years provide an opportunity to ensure that the progress we make for children reaches every child. A girl at school, in India.

Read the eleventh edition of UNICEF’s flagship report Progress for Children to learn more.