Based on current trends, 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 67 million children will live in poverty, 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, says a UNICEF report released on Tuesday.

It added that the poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and be chronically malnourished than the richest.

The State of the World’s Children, the 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.

Mortality rates

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 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 of what it was in the 1990s. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report added.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said there is urgent need to invest in children now or allow our world to become even more unequal and divided.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures — by fuelling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” he said.

The report stated that across most 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 secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.

Gaps

Releasing the report, Louis-Georges Arsenault, the UNICEF representative to India, said: “The early years are foundational and children who start behind stay behind. There are long-term consequences, particularly for the most marginalised and disadvantaged children, when they enter school without a quality preschool education. And gaps between disadvantaged children and other children become harder to bridge at later points in their education.”

The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. 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, the report states.

The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits