Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world's most disadvantaged children: UNICEF's State of the World's Children flagship report

Making the right choices now can, and will, reverse this fate, new report says

NEW YORK/TORONTO, June 28, 2016 /CNW/ - Based on current trends, 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million children will live in poverty, 60 million primary school-aged children will be out of school, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030, the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals – unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children, according to a UNICEF report released today.

The State of the World's Children, UNICEF's annual flagship report, paints a stark picture of what is in store for the world's poorest children if governments, donors, businesses and international organizations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs and the inequities they face.

"Children the world over are looking to us to build societies where they can survive and thrive to become the next generation of productive and contributing members of society," said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. "From Syria and Jordan, to Slovenia and Tanzania, I have met countless children this year struggling to overcome their circumstances in the face of inequity. But I have also seen what happens when we invest in their education, health and protection. When children's rights are prioritized and children are enabled to reach their full potential, there is no limit to what they – and all of humanity – can achieve."

"Inequity is not inevitable. It requires a conscious effort as a society, as a global community, to put the most vulnerable first and make sure no child falls behind," said Morley. "A sustainable and more equitable future is possible, but we must start investing more in the most disadvantaged children, investing earlier on, and investing in more innovative ways. Canada's been a champion for children and their rights and we call for continued investment in reaching the most vulnerable who are living with inequity every day."

Progress for world's children has not been even

The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children's lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. Global under-five mortality rates have been more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half what it was in the 1990s. 

But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report says. The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest. Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.

"Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fueling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies," says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided."

Trends show more divided, unfair world by 2030

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or two in three – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop. This is also the region where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling. At current trends, the report projects that by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for:

  • Nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes by 2030;
  • More than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and
  • Nine out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.


Although education plays a unique role in levelling the playing field for children, the number of children who do not attend school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning because of poor quality education. About 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic. 

Education key to ending cycle of inequity

The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. Cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education. On average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 per cent. And for each additional year of schooling completed, on average, by young adults in a country, that country's poverty rates fall by nine per cent.  

Inequity is neither inevitable, nor insurmountable, the report argues. Better data on the most vulnerable children, integrated solutions to the challenges children face, innovative ways to address old problems, more equitable investment and increased involvement by communities – all these measures can help level the playing field for children.

Download a PDF of the report and multimedia content at:


UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.


Image with caption: "Sumiya (5) and Moriom (6) eat a meal of curry potatoes and rice in Kultoli Village, Bangladesh. Sumiya has been diagnosed with malnutrition. Their mother does her best to provide for them, but many basic necessities are beyond her reach. Even with the income brought in by her husband and her 15-year-old son — both day labourers — she cannot afford to purchase essentials, like meat, fish or eggs. A cycle of inequity is threatening the future of hundreds of millions of children like Sumiya and Moriom. © UNICEF/UN016328/Gilbertson VII (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20160628_C2214_PHOTO_EN_723606.jpg

For further information: To arrange interviews or for more information please contact: Stefanie Carmichael, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8866; 647-500-4320 (mobile), scarmichael@unicef.ca


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