On the basis of current trends, a total of 69 million children under age five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million children will live in, and 750 million young women will have married while still girls in 2030, the end date for the sustainable development goals – unless the world concentrates its efforts on the situation of the least-favored children, according to a report published today by UNICEF.

The State of the World’s Children, the main annual report by UNICEF, describes a desolated panorama awaiting the world’s poorest children if governments, donors, companies and international organizations do not accelerate their efforts to solve their needs.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a good opportunity in life means more than jeopardizing their future: by exacerbating inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, this endangers the future of their societies”, said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake. “We have one chance: invest today in these children, or let our world become even more unequal and divided”.

The report says that considerable progress has been made in the task of saving children’s lives and getting them to school, and in getting many people out of poverty. Worldwide mortality rates for children under age five have been reduced to less than half since 1990; girl and boy children are attending primary school equally in 129 countries; and the number of persons living in extreme poverty the world over is almost half of what it was in the 1990s.

However, this progress has not been uniform or fair, says the publication. Poor children have twice the likelihood of wealthier children of dying before age five and of suffering from chronic under- nutrition. In much of southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers who have not attended school have almost three times more probability of dying before age five than those born of mothers with a secondary-school education. And girl children in the poorest households have twice the likelihood of being married as children than girls from wealthier households.

Nowhere in the world is the panorama gloomier than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – two out of three – live in multi-dimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where almost 60% of the youth from 20 to 24 years in the poorest quintile of the population has had less than four years of schooling. According to current trends, the report projects that sub-Saharan Africa’s figures will be in 2030:

  • Almost half the 69 million children who will die before age five will succumb to mostly preventable causes;
  • Over half the 60 million primary school-age children will be out of school; and
  • 9 out of 10 children will live in extreme poverty.

Although education plays a unique role in leveling the playing ground for children, the number of children not attending school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning effectively. Some 124 million children do not attend primary or secondary school at this time, and almost two out of every five students who complete primary school have not learned to read, write, or do simple arithmetical calculations.

The report describes the proofs indicating that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits. For example, cash transfers have shown their usefulness in helping children stay in school longer and achieve higher levels of education. On the average, every additional year of schooling that children receive increases their earnings in adulthood by approximately 10%. And for every additional year of schooling that youth finish in a country, on the average, that country’s poverty rates go down by 9%.

Inequality is not inevitable or insuperable, says the report. Getting better data on the most vulnerable children, applying holistic solutions to the challenges that children face, establishing innovative ways of addressing long-standing problems, making more equitable investments and increasing communities’ participation are all measures that can help level the playing field for children.