Today’s world is fraught with turmoil, and massive global challenges leave us feeling helpless. But amid the prevailing gloom, there is reason for hope.
In the last two decades, there have been countless advances that have changed our lives—new medicines, smart phones, and global movements for equality, to name a few. And according to a new report, in the last 18 years—the span of a childhood—the lives of more than 280 million children around the world, including the U.S., have improved dramatically.
This year’s Global Childhood Report, released annually by Save the Children, ranks 176 countries on how well they protect and provide for their children. The progress since 2000 is remarkable. In less than two decades, we have prevented more childhood diseases, fed more children nutritious food, put more children in school rather than work, avoided more child marriages and teen births, and kept more children safe from homicide than was thought possible.
Singapore, Western Europe, and South Korea top the rankings, though success stories span the globe.
Perhaps most inspiring, many nations with the fewest resources have made some of the greatest strides on behalf of their youngsters, demonstrating the power of development assistance coupled with political will. Together, China and India account for more than half of the global decline in stunting alone. Mexico has slashed its rate of number of child labor by 80 percent; legal reforms and awareness campaigns in India have helped reduce child marriage by half. In Bangladesh, child deaths have dropped in part because of the country’s commitment to innovation, including use of mobile phones to share health information.
Yet, there is more work to be done.
Worldwide, the number of children living in war zones or forced to flee their homes due to conflict has skyrocketed: There are 30.5 million more forcibly displaced people now than there were in 2000, a staggering 80 percent increase. Fighting in Syria and Yemen, and long-standing conflicts in Iraq and South Sudan, have contributed significantly to this surge, making life for children there especially hard. Displaced children disproportionately experience poor health and malnutrition, and are often more likely to be out of school or forced to work or marry.
Overall, these tremendous global accomplishments are attributable to a variety of factors. The Millennium Development Goals, gave the world a concrete framework to eliminate poverty, bolstered by the commitment of governments to investment and improved planning. Development aid has proven results, and the growing empowerment of women and girls and election of women to leadership roles keeps issues affecting children at the forefront of national agendas.
When Eglantyne Jebb founded Save the Children 100 years ago, her idea that all children have a right to food, health care, education and protection from exploitation, was not mainstream. Jebb was one woman with a conviction and drive to change the way the world views and treats children. Since she began this movement, decades of dedication, leadership, investment, and innovation have enabled millions more children to grow up happy, healthy and safe.
That is news worth celebrating, but we cannot stop now. We know the solutions and systems that can save lives, protect children, get and keep them in school. Seeing the change we’ve spurred in just a generation leaves me hopeful for what we can continue to achieve by working together.
Carolyn Miles is CEO of Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization serving more than 155 million children in the United States and more than 100 countries around the world. Miles is also co-chair of the US Global Leadership Coalition.