Children and the Millennium Development Goals: Fragile Gains and Deep Inequalities
- Date: 01 Sep 2010
- Series: Policy Paper 2
- Author: Paul Dornan
- Download the file ( English, 784 KB, PDF document )
As a promise made to poor people worldwide the Millennium Development Goals remain a powerful signal of international consensus that more must be done to improve human development. Commitment to the MDGs was reiterated at the 2010 summit of G20 countries (G20 2010) in Toronto. As the UN Secretary General described: "They are the world’s quantified, time-bound targets for addressing extreme poverty, hunger and disease, and for promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability. They are also an expression of basic human rights: the rights of everyone to good health, education and shelter (12 February 2010).
This paper aims to inform the debate around achievement of the MDG Goals using evidence and analysis from Young Lives. Young Lives first collected data in 2002 and is following two cohorts of children. The youngest cohort of Young Lives children were born just after the new millennium and are growing up with the promise of the MDGs."
Many of the MDGs focus on children (including primary school enrolment, child mortality, and malnutrition). Gender equity is also of vital importance given that maternal health affects children’s welfare and that women often buffer children from the impacts of shocks and adverse events. This emphasis on children is important both because of society’s inherent responsibility towards those in a dependent phase of life and because early intervention can bring important long-term benefits, and so it represents an investment in the wider success of society. Tackling childhood poverty is therefore key to breaking wider poverty cycles.
While acknowledging progress, the emerging picture is one of fragile gains and with deep, continuing, inequalities. All four countries in which Young Lives is working experienced economic growth between 2002 and 2006. This growth has been associated with falls in absolute poverty rates and with some improvements in access to basic services and measured wealth among the Young Lives households. However significant inequalities in access, quality and children’s outcomes remain. Alongside the fragile gains, and even before the on-going global crisis, it was clear that Young Lives children experience regular shocks which can compromise their development. A later wave of data collected in 2009 will indicate how children were affected by these crises and also help to evaluate how effective formal and informal institutions are at buffering children facing these pressures. We discuss descriptive and analytical evidence from the Young Lives sample, within the scope of the MDGs, to elaborate four core arguments:
First, between 2002 and 2006 we observe evidence that national economic growth was associated with some limited gains in household wealth in the Young Lives sample. Despite this growth, significant inequalities are common. We also observe substantial positive increases in school enrolment and coverage of basic services.
Second, in some areas – for example enrolment – change looks quite progressive, with increases apparently benefiting previously excluded groups most, but:
- Gaps often remain large and systematic – groups weak within societies often do much less well than the majority or more affluent and powerful elites.
- Process indicators only tell part of the story – a child’s enrolment does not prove they attend school regularly, receive a decent education, or one which equips them with useful skills for later life.
Third, if the MDGs are to be transformational for children they need to help break the transmission of poverty between generations. At the moment we see clear evidence that poverty and inequalities restrict poorer children’s life chances. Strategies to support sustained improvements under the MDGs need both to increase overall outcomes, and to deliver most for the poorest and most marginalised children.
Fourth, averages are often used to measure change but can mask disparities between groups. Our evidence shows considerable differences – for instance in enrolment rates or access to services. It is important to expose such disparities to help understand how to improve outcomes for the poorest and most marginalised children.