State of the World’s Children: They Need Peace and Safety. Now.

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July 5, 2016

“I used to dream that I could be a soldier, or something like that. But now I’m not in school, so I don’t know what I could be in the future.” – Muhammad Modu, 15

Muhammad Modu lives in north-eastern Nigeria and is 15. Just a couple of years ago he was in school hard at work. Then Boko Haram destroyed his village, forcing his family to flee into the bush. Now he sorts trash to find materials to sell. Two to three days of careful sifting through the garbage nets him enough to sell for N150–200 (US$0.75–$1.00).

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UNICEF just released their latest State of the World’s Children report. Muhammad is one of the approximately 124 million out-of-school children and adolescents throughout the world. From the report, “He is also one of an estimated 75 million children whose education has been disrupted by crisis. Complex emergencies and protracted crises – sparked by violent conflict; natural disasters, including those linked to climate change; or epidemics – do not just temporarily interrupt children’s lives and schooling. They can close the doors on education for a lifetime.”

His family moved to a safer community in Maiduguri, but they lost everything when they fled. Government-run schools are free, but feeding himself, buying uniforms, supplies, and transport make school out of reach for him right now.  Despite the years he did spend in school, Muhammad can’t read.

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“Nearly 250 million children of primary school age – well over one third of the 650 million children in this age group – do not master basic literacy and numeracy, according to an estimate from 2013. For some 130 million of them, that’s despite attending school for at least four years.”

Without these basics, children don’t get the start they need or much of a chance at a future. Quality education opens the doors that can help end poverty.

Musamat Murshida Sultana (centre), 6, attends a UNICEF-supported pre-primary school that caters to the  poorest children in Satkhira, Bangladesh. Early childhood education can give children born into poor and non-literate homes a boost, so they have a better chance of success when they start school.

Musamat Murshida Sultana (centre), 6, attends a UNICEF-supported pre-primary school that caters to the  poorest children in Satkhira, Bangladesh. Early childhood education can give children born into poor and non-literate homes a boost, so they have a better chance of success when they start school.

The report argues that progress for the most disadvantaged children is the defining condition for delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, or global goals. “Despite great progress in school enrollment in many parts of the world, the number of children aged 6 to 11 who are out of school has increased since 2011. About 124 million children and adolescents do not attend school, and 2 out of 5 leave primary school without learning how to read, write or do basic arithmetic, according to 2013 data. This challenge is compounded by the increasingly protracted nature of armed conflict. Nearly 250 million children live in countries and areas affected by armed conflict, and millions more bear the brunt of climate-related disasters and chronic crises,” says Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UNICEF. (emphasis added)

Unless the world tackles inequity today, by 2030:

  • Over 165 million children will live on no more than US$1.90 a day, nine out of 10 of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Almost 70 million children under the age of 5 will die of largely preventable causes.
  • 750 million women will have been married as children, perpetuating inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.

“We have a clear choice to make: Invest in accelerated progress for the children being left behind, or face the consequences of a far more divided and unfair world by 2030.”

Inequity is not inevitable – UNICEF’s report calls on countries to focus on reaching their most disadvantaged children first, to offer a more level playing field for children.

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