Progress Towards the MDGs? Fragile Gains and Deep Inequalities

Young Lives Policy Brief 11


The target date for the Millennium Development Goals is only five years away. Much remains to be done if progress towards achieving them is to be sustained. Young Lives research is tracking 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam to learn about their education, well-being and experiences of poverty and uncertainty. Our work shows that over the period covered by the analysis there was progress towards the MDGs, but that significant inequalities in access to and quality of services and children’s outcomes remain. Strategies to support sustained improvements under the MDGs need both to improve overall outcomes, and to deliver most for the poorest and most marginalised children.

Young Lives is a study of childhood poverty which is following the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, Peru, Vietnam and the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, between 2002 and 2015. Two age cohorts of children have been surveyed three times, and in-depth interviews with a smaller group of the children were carried out during 2007 and 2008. The longitudinal design of Young Lives allows examination of changes in children’s lives, and what drives these changes over time. The study includes more poorer households (it is ‘pro–poor’) rather than being nationally representative. In consequence it is well suited to exploring the differences between groups of children and the impacts of government interventions, which can be looked at alongside national trends from other data sources. The younger cohort of Young Lives children were born just after the new millennium and so are the first generation growing up with the promise of the MDGs.

Ensuring children are central to development policy is important not only because of the particular responsibilities society owes to dependents, but because early intervention in children’s lives can bring important long-term benefits. Tackling childhood deprivation is key to breaking broader cycles of poverty. The MDGs reflect this, with many of the targets – such as primary school enrolment and reducing child mortality – focusing directly on children. Other targets – for example gender equity – have an indirect but no less vital impact on children.

Using data from the 2002 and 2006 Young Lives survey, this Policy Brief evaluates some of the progress towards MDG targets reflected by the experiences of Young Lives children. It also discusses how a range of shocks – from economic to environmental – affect children in different families, and how they cope. By examining patterns of both gains and setbacks for different children, we find important messages for policymakers as they look towards 2015 and beyond.



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