Despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today's children face an uncertain future. Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country. In 2015, the world's countries agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet nearly 5 years later, few countries have recorded much progress towards achieving them. This Commission presents the case for placing children, aged 0–18 years, at the centre of the SDGs: at the heart of the concept of sustainability and our shared human endeavour. Governments must harness coalitions across sectors to overcome ecological and commercial pressures to ensure children receive their rights and entitlements now and a liveable planet in the years to come.
Invest in children's health for lifelong, intergenerational, and economic benefits
The evidence is clear: early investments in children's health, education, and development have benefits that compound throughout the child's lifetime, for their future children, and society as a whole. Successful societies invest in their children and protect their rights, as is evident from countries that have done well on health and economic measures over the past few decades. Yet many politicians still do not prioritise investing in children, nor see it as the foundation for broader societal improvements. Even in rich countries, many children go hungry or live in conditions of absolute poverty, especially those belonging to marginalised social groups—including indigenous populations and ethnic minorities. Too often, the potential of children with developmental disabilities is neglected, restricting their contributions to society. Additionally, many millions of children grow up scarred by war or insecurity, excluded from receiving the most basic health, educational, and developmental services.
Decision makers need a long-term vision. Just as good health and nutrition in the prenatal period and early years lay the foundation for a healthy life course, the learning and social skills we acquire at a young age provide the basis for later development and support a strong national polity and economy. High-quality services with universal health-care coverage must be a top priority. The benefits of investing in children would be enormous, and the costs are not prohibitive: an analysis of the SDGs suggests a financing gap of US$195 per person. To ensure stronger economic and human development, each government must assess how to mobilise funding using instruments that help the poorest proportion of the population to meet this gap for children, and frame these as the most powerful investments a society can make. But investments are not just monetary: citizen participation and community action, including the voices of children themselves, are powerful forces for change that must be mobilised to reach the SDGs. Social movements must play a transformational role in demanding the rights that communities need to care for children and provide for families.
Government has a duty of care and protection across all sectors
Countries that support future generations put a high priority on ensuring all children's needs are met, by delivering entitlements, such as paid parental leave, free primary health care at the point of delivery, access to healthy—and sufficient amounts of—food, state-funded or subsidised education, and other social protection measures. These countries make sure children grow up in safe and healthy environments, with clean water and air and safe spaces to play. They respect the equal rights of girls, boys, and those with non-conforming gender identities. Policy makers in these countries are concerned with the effect of all policies on all children, but especially those in poorer families and marginalised populations, starting by ensuring birth registration so that the government can provide for children across the life course, and help them to become engaged and productive adult citizens. The rights and entitlements of children are enshrined within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ratified by all countries, except the USA. Countries might provide these entitlements in different ways, but their realisation is the only pathway for countries to achieve the SDGs for children's health and wellbeing, and requires decisive and strong public action.