UNICEF makes a compelling case for putting children at the centre of the post-2015 sustainable development framework in a new paper, ‘Sustainable development starts and ends with safe, healthy and well-educated children’. Investing in children’s well-being and learning is the most effective way to ensure long-term sustainability, the report argues. In addition, sustainable communities help children learn by providing safer, healthier environments.
Children often fare the worst when communities face social and environmental challenges, from water shortages to violent conflicts. As we have discussed recently on this blog, safe and healthy living conditions are not only basic human rights, but also particularly crucial for children, who need a conflict-free environment and access to nutritious food and clean water in order to learn. When children are prevented from learning, the negative effects are long-lasting not only for children themselves, but also for their communities and society as a whole.
The UNICEF report says that addressing childhood malnutrition – which is evident when children are stunted, or short for their age – can increase a country’s GDP by 2%-3% or more annually, as children who develop fully both physically and mentally earn more throughout their lifetimes, and require less health care. It also finds that educating girls is so effective in lowering fertility rates that some have estimated investing in girls’ education is the most cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions due to reduced population pressures on the environment.
UNICEF calls for strong commitment to children’s rights to safety, health and learning, both through providing more sustainable development, and in order to ensure future sustainable development. In addition, the report argues that children’s voices must be heard so that they can contribute to their own, more sustainable futures.