After months of food and water shortages caused by drought and frost, Papua New Guinea is suffering floods and mudslides affecting 2,000 people living on a "razor's edge" after last year's lack of rain. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Commentary: A Promise Renewed — Learning From the MDGs


JUNE 23, 2015

In the year 2000, 189 countries signed a historic declaration at the United Nations Millennium Summit. The global community agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were aimed at improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. The deadline for these goals was set as the end of 2015.

As this deadline draws near, Unicef has examined global data to determine whether children now have a greater chance to survive and thrive than they did when the goals were first set.

There have been impressive advances around the world, as showcased in Unicef’s Progress for Children report, published today. Compared to 1990, half as many children under 5 die today, nearly 100 million fewer children are chronically malnourished , and the number of primary school-age children who miss out on their education has decreased by 45 percent between 1999 and 2012.

In Indonesia, the progress has also been significant. Under-5 mortality has decreased from 84 to 29 per 1,000 live births — meaning five million children have been saved who would have died if this rate had remained at the 1990-level.

There has been a major increase in skilled attendance at births from 36 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 2012. And enrollment of children in primary school now stands at 95 percent.

But this is only part of the story.

Circumstances beyond a child’s control — such as gender, place of birth and the economic situation of his or her family — continue to deny millions of children in Indonesia a fair chance to realize their full potential.

The number of stunted children in Indonesia remains very high at 37 percent. This means almost nine million children under 5 years of age are too short for their age and at risk of not developing to their full physical and cognitive potential. Indonesia’s stunting rate is similar to much less developed countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa.

Indonesia also has the second-highest number of people who practice open defecation in the world after India, with children — already vulnerable and marginalized — paying a high price in respect of their health and development, because unhygienic living conditions cause disease and death.

And child marriage is still widespread with 17 percent of girls marrying before they turn 18 — severely affecting their education, health and economic prospects.

But these national averages often mask an ever grimmer reality and there are stark disparities within Indonesia. Rates of stunting, open defecation and child marriage are actually much higher in less developed parts of the country. For example, in parts of East Nusa Tenggara, stunting rates exceed 50 percent.

We know that a fair start in life for every child is within reach. We know what it will take to achieve this: Sufficient investments focused on the most disadvantaged children and communities and backed by committed leadership; robust data that allows us to identify the most vulnerable children and understand the challenges they face; innovations that make it more possible to reach excluded children; and stronger systems for health, education, child protection and social protection.

As the MDGs reach the end of their 15 year process, world leaders will gather in September in New York to agree on new goals for making the world fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful over the next 15 years. Indonesia has the potential to become a front runner country in championing these new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in key areas like child survival, child protection and reduction of child poverty.

The analysis of the MDG achievements provide important lessons that need to guide us in these efforts. Maybe the most important one is that none of the new goals can be considered achieved unless it is achieved for all children everywhere.

Gunilla Olsson is Unicef's representative for Indonesia.