As we embark 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals becomes the `new-normal’ providing the renewed vision and pathways to speed up our efforts towards achieving child rights and children’s well-being.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious and universal “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. It represent an historic opportunity to advance the rights and well-being of every child.

Achieving the SDGs can only be possible if we make concerted efforts to address the issues that continue to leave children vulnerable. This includes tackling the unfinished business from the Millennium Development Goals. It will require effective and equitable investment in the most disadvantaged children through focused partnerships with governments, development partners, academia and civil society. UNICEF is committed to that vision, joining with others to scale up what works, innovate for improved solutions and results, measure progress and share lessons learned.

The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targets. All are relevant to children’s lives. But some explicitly tackle issues at the centre of UNICEF’s work in 190 countries, including Bhutan.

About a billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty. Nearly half of them are children. The explicit mention of children and poverty and the call to end extreme poverty are critical steps forward. The goal on poverty recognizes the myriad dimensions of poverty and urges countries to develop and strengthen social protection systems.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributed to undernutrition. Globally, one out of every four children under 5 had were stunted in 2013. In Bhutan, according to Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS) 2010, one in three children are stunted. The goal on nutrition calls for an end to malnutrition, which threatens children’s lives and undermines their health and physical growth, education and futures. It includes a child nutrition target and a commitment to achieving targets on stunting and wasting by 2025.

By the end of 2015 year, nearly six million children globally will have died before their fifth birthday. The goal on health renews commitment to child survival and health and continues the focus on diseases that remain a challenge around the world including HIV/AIDS and malaria. In addition, the targets aim for a reduction of neonatal mortality of at least 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality of at least 25 per 1,000 live births by 2030. The targets also recognize non-communicable diseases as a growing global health issue and acknowledge the importance of social determinants of health and the need to strengthen health systems and social safety nets.

The goal on education acknowledges the importance of improving education quality and recognizes that learning should begin early and continue through at least secondary school. It adds early childhood care and education to the global development agenda, acknowledging the crucial role it plays in providing every child a fair start in life, and aims to ensure that education is accessible education for all children – whether girl, boy, disabled, indigenous or living in a vulnerable situation. Early childhood care and development is an important area of UNICEF’s work in Bhutan, with only 17 per cent of children aged 3 to 5 years attending some form of organized early childhood education in 2015. The percentage is much lower if the children are from the poorest households (3 per cent) – they are almost ten times less likely to have access to early childhood education compared to children from the richest households (27 per cent).

The goal on gender equality provides strong targets on critical gender equality issues that affect children including empowerment, discrimination, violence against women and girls and child marriage. It calls for policies and legislation that protect and empower girls and women, and for boys and men to play a critical role in changing attitudes and behaviours that harm women and girls.

Investing in children’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene enables them to be agents of behaviour change in families and communities. The goal furthers the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals by clearly stating the need to achieve universal and equitable access to clean and safe water and sanitation. For example: In Bhutan 58 per cent of population have access to improved sanitation facility, however for the poorest households (32 per cent) access to improved sanitation is three times less compared to the richest households (95 per cent). The goal calls for an end to open defecation and acknowledges the dangers it presents, especially for girls and women.

Economic growth and employment directly affect the financial stability of children and families. In addition, as children grow up and enter the workforce, they will need to find jobs – an increasingly difficult task in a world where young people aged 15 and 24 make up 36 per cent of unemployed people worldwide. The goal calls for a global strategy on youth employment. It also aims to end child labour, starting with its hazardous forms, including recruitment and use of child soldiers – a critical addition to the global development agenda.

The poorest children are not getting a fair chance to survive, thrive and reach their full potential. Discrimination based on factors like ethnicity or geographic location reinforce poverty across generations. For example: In Bhutan only 34 per cent of women from the poorest households deliver with skilled birth assistance compared to 95 per cent of women from the richest households. The goal on inequalities calls on countries to enact policies that narrow the gaps between rich and poor, and to dismantle ones that exclude groups of children from societies, politics and economies.

The number of people, including children, living in cities and towns is growing every year. For many children, urban life increases access to education, medical attention and recreation. However, too many are denied the basic necessities, including clean water and health care. Every child has the right to a living environment that is safe and services that are central to their health, mobility and well-being. The goal on human settlements calls for access to green and public spaces by 2030, as well as access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, better road safety and more public transport that provides for the needs of women and children and the vulnerable populations.

For children, this goal on climate change is an important environmental advancement as it affects children in many ways. It is linked to Goal 7, which calls for universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services by 2030. For example: Lack of modern energy sources in the home exposes children to household air pollution such as soot that can affect their health, safety, education and well-being. The goal calls for integrating climate change policies into national strategies and plans and ensuring access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services for all by 2030.

Violence threatens the lives and futures of millions of children and damages the social fabric of communities and nations. One of the major achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals is the introduction of violence and protection to the international development agenda. The targets include ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children.

This new phase of development presents a holistic opportunity to advance the rights and well-being of every child, especially the most disadvantaged. What we decide to do for children and how we engage them in building the future will ultimately determine whether we are successful in creating a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

In the words of UNICEF Executive Director, Mr. Anthony Lake, “the true measure (of progress) will be in every child lifted out of poverty; through every mother who survives childbirth; every girl who does not lose her childhood to early marriage. By helping the most disadvantaged children today – by giving them a fair chance in life – we can help break the bonds of extreme poverty tomorrow.”

As we embark on this new collective journey, we wish years of optimism and hope for all children everywhere ensuring no one regardless of where they live is left behind. Bhutan too is all set moving forward to accelerate its efforts on SDGs as an incentive for measuring progress for its children.

Contributed by

Shaheen Nilofer

UNICEF Representative