Twenty-five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since then, millions of children have benefited from progress. When governments, their international partners, businesses and communities have matched their obligations under the Convention with money and energy, they have saved and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of children. While the magnitude of progress has been profound in key areas – child survival, education, access to clean water – too many children still confront the future with their needs unaddressed, their rights unrealized and their potential thwarted.
The world’s low-income countries remain home to concentrations of poverty and disadvantage, but many impoverished children live in middle-income countries – countries plagued with large income inequalities. Here, as elsewhere, deprivation is disproportionately concentrated in urban slums and remote rural areas and among such marginalized groups as ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.
Even the safety of a child’s arrival in this world remains subject to the lottery of where she was born and whether her family is well off – and the inequity extends throughout childhood and beyond.
- The richest 20 per cent of the world’s women are 2.6 times more likely than the poorest 20 per cent to have a skilled attendant present at delivery. In South Asia, the richest women are 3.5 times more likely than the poorest to have this benefit.
- Worldwide, 78 per cent of the richest children under the age of 5 have their births registered but only 49 per cent of the poorest enjoy the right to an official identity. And while 79 per cent of children living in cities are registered, this is true for only 50 per cent of those living in the countryside.
- The poorest 20 per cent of the world’s children are about twice as likely as the richest 20 per cent to be stunted by poor nutrition and to die before their fifth birthday. Children in rural areas are at a disadvantage compared to those who live in urban areas.
- Nearly 9 in 10 children from the wealthiest 20 per cent of households in the world’s least developed countries attend primary school – compared to only about 6 in 10 from the poorest households. The gap is most dramatic in countries in West and Central Africa. In Burkina Faso, for example, 85 per cent of children in the wealthiest households attended school, compared to 31 per cent of children in the poorest households.
- Regardless of wealth, girls continue to be held back from schooling. For every 100 boys enrolled in primary school in West and Central Africa, only 90 girls are admitted. The exclusion is worse in secondary school, where only 77 girls are enrolled for every 100 boys.
- Girls are much more likely to be married or in union during adolescence than their male counterparts, and less likely than boys to have comprehensive knowledge of HIV. In South Asia, boys are twice as likely as girls to have this knowledge with which to protect themselves.
- Of the estimated 2.5 billion people without improved sanitation in 2012, most of these people – 1.8 billion, or 70 per cent – live in rural areas. Disparities persist even within rural areas: in half of the countries with data, increases in rural coverage since 1995 have not been equitably distributed, with the wealthy gaining most of the benefits of improved sanitation.
Too many children remain excluded from the progress of the past 25 years. The cost of these inequities is paid most immediately – and most tragically – by children themselves. But the long-term impact affects generations to come, undermining the strength of their societies. So addressing these inequities and reducing disparities is not only the right thing to do – honoring the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – it is also the strategic thing to do, yielding practical gains.
As the global community begins to shape – and act on – the post-2015 agenda, dismantling the financial, political, institutional and cultural barriers that stand between children and their rights must be a central priority.