But certain areas still require addressing 

Report: About one in five children under the age of five in Bhutan still remain stunted, the UNICEF’s representative to Bhutan, Shaheen Nilofer, said during the launch of the State of the World’s Children (SWC) report yesterday.

Meanwhile, only one in five children aged three to five years in Bhutan have access to early learning in an organised setting such as an early childhood care and development (ECCD) centre.

Of the 20, in eight dzonkhags, only half of three to five-year olds are developmentally on track and 12 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Shaheen Nilofer said that early childhood stimulation and learning can improve school readiness and reduces the chances of repetition and dropouts.

Newborn deaths in Bhutan are still high, accounting for more than half (54 percent) of under-five deaths occurring in the first 28 days of birth, mostly as a result of diseases that can be readily and affordably prevented and treated, Shaheen Nilofer said.

The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF’s annual flagship report, states that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty.

Shaheen Nilofer said that in many cases equity gaps have narrowed down the gaps of inequalities. Bhutan too has narrowed down the gaps over the years and has made significant progress.

Poverty in Bhutan has been halved, from 24 percent in 2012 to 12 percent today. Stunting or chronic undernutrition in children under five has reduced from 33.2 percent in 2010 to 21.2 percent in 2015, while the under-five mortality rate has reduced from 134 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 33 per 1,000 live births in 2015.

However, Shaheen Nilofer said that this progress has been neither even nor fair. The poorest children are more than six times more likely to be stunted than the richest; poorest children are more than thrice as likely to die before their fifth birthday than children in the richest quintile; children whose mothers have no formal education are 63 percent more likely to be stunted compared to children whose mothers have a secondary or higher education.

“In a world of equity, everyone should move forward. More than ever, we should recognise that development is sustainable only if it can be carried on and sustained by future generations,” Shaheen Nilofer said. “We have an opportunity to replace vicious cycles with virtuous cycles in which today’s poor children, if given a fair chance at health, education and protection from harm, can, as adults, compete on a more level playing field with children from wealthier backgrounds.”

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 of what it was in the 1990s.

However, the report also paints a stark picture of what is in store for the world’s poorest children if governments, donors, businesses and international organisations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs.

According to the report, based on current trends, 69M (million) children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167M children will live in poverty, and 750M women will have been married as children by 2030,the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals, if the world doesn’t focus more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children.

This year’s SWC report with the theme, “A fair chance for every child,” focuses on three key areas: poverty, child survival and education; that will have a critical bearing on achieving equity for every child by 2030.

National Assembly speaker, Jigme Zangpo, said that the theme focuses on how best to tackle inequity, making the right choices that will break intergenerational cycles of deprivation, marginalisation and vulnerability.

Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo said that the areas in which children experience inequity are many, but this report focuses specifically on three areas that exemplify, both the magnitude of the challenge and the immensity of the opportunity to improve the lives of millions of children.

Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo said that the report comes at an opportune time as Bhutan has started the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo explained that the SDGs are universal and there cannot be true universality if pockets of the population, especially children, in remote and rural areas are not reached. If they are left without access to the basic necessities that can help these most disadvantaged children grow up to their full potential and become productive citizens and future leaders.

The SWC 2016 report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. Inequity is not inevitable, the report says. 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.

Dechen Tshomo