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Unicef: Children are both the makers and the markers of healthy, sustainable societies


NEW YORK – One year after the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference building “The future we want” – Rio’s outcome – will be dependent on children being at the heart of the post-2015 agenda, says UNICEF.

A new UNICEF position paper, Sustainable development starts and ends with safe, healthy and well-educated children, outlines three messages that are key for achieving a world fit for children – today and for future generations.

First, that the progress of children can be a major driver of sustainable development; second, children are stakeholders in a sustainable world – the ones with the most to gain and the most to lose from success or failure; and finally children can and should be major participants in and contributors to a healthy, sustainable planet.

“Children and young people are the makers of a future sustainable world, and, measures of their progress will also be the markers of that world,” said Richard Morgan, UNICEF’s Senior Adviser on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. “Their learning, their nutritional growth, their safety and confidence, their creativity and ideas – underpinned by freedom from fear as well as freedom from want – will be the markers of how decisively we are moving to a sustainable future for all.”

The paper makes a direct link between what needs to be done for children today – particularly those most disadvantaged – and how this will affect the future of their countries.

For example, roughly 165 million children under five are suffering from stunting – which can have life-long effects on a child’s early brain development, health and future productivity. Preventing childhood stunting can help break the cycle of poverty and increase a country’s GDP by at least two to three per cent every year, and save billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Exposure to violence also has dramatic and life-long implications – from brain injury and physical trauma to depression and development delays. Children subjected to violence are more at risk of making the transition into drug abuse, criminal, violent and other dangerous behaviours later in adolescence and in adult life.

The stresses of climate change also disproportionately affect children. They are acutely vulnerable to environmental pollution, as their bodies and brains are still developing. They are physiologically less able than adults to adapt to heat and other climate-related exposures, and are also more vulnerable to air pollutants. Scarce and contaminated water and food have a direct negative impact on their young bodies.

The good news is that investing in children delivers big pay offs – for them, for their societies, and for the planet. For example, a good quality education has major inter-generational impacts. A well-educated girl is likely to have greater personal earnings potential, be more likely to delay marriage and pregnancy and be more likely to access health service support, leading to lower rates of maternal mortality. Educated women tend to have fewer, healthier and more educated children.

According to UNICEF, children represent approximately one-third of the world’s population, and their rights and participation as part of a sustainable future are already guided by an extensive range of international conventions, treaties, and other legal instruments -- including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The paper concludes that children’s voices, choices and participation are critical for the sustainable future we want. They are not only the inheritors of the planet; they also actively shape it in the present. Inclusive and people-centred development means investing in the well-being and empowerment of children and young people so they can become the effective guardians of a sustainable world.

More information about children and sustainable development is available from UNICEF at the following link:

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:


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