Major strides made by Vietnam on MDG agenda, but substantial unfinished business remains

By Youssouf Abdel-Jelil*, Thanh Nien News

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A Khmer ethnic woman, along with her children, in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh. Photo courtesy UNDP A Khmer ethnic woman, along with her children, in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh. Photo courtesy UNDP

Nearly 15 years ago, the global community, including Vietnam, rallied behind eight goals in the hopes of building a better and more prosperous world. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set measurable targets and a 2015 deadline for achieving them.

As that 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 set in 2000. The results, showcased in UNICEF’s Progress for Children report, clearly show that despite significant achievements, millions of the world’s most vulnerable children have not benefitted from development efforts in the past 15 years.

The data also show global advancements: Since 1990, half as many children under five are dying, nearly 100 million fewer children under five are stunted, the number of people living in extreme poverty has nearly halved, and between 1999 and 2012, the number of primary school-age children out of school decreased by 45 percent.

Here in Vietnam, major strides has been made: Since 2000, the mortality rate of under five children has been halved (39 per thousand to 20 per thousand live births), the number of stunted children has been reduced by nearly one third (36 percent to 25 percent) and the percentage of people who have access to improved drinking water has increased from 78 percent to 92 percent.

Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Vietnam

But these successes – while impressive – are only part of the story. Circumstances beyond a child’s control – such as geographical location, gender, ethnic affiliation and the social and economic situation of his or her family – continue to deny some of the most vulnerable Vietnamese children a fair chance to realize their potential.

For example, children from the poorest households are more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as children from the wealthiest and nearly five times more likely to be out of school.

Almost all the households in Vietnam’s urban area have access to improved sanitation facility, while less than half of ethnic minority households enjoy the same condition. Only one-third of ethnic minority groups had access to assisted deliveries with a skilled birth attendants compared to 99 percent of women in urban areas.

Recent data show that about one in five children aged 5-17 years in the country engage in child labour. This situation is more prevalent in Northern Midlands and mountain Area (36.2 percent) and Central Highlands (25 percent).

These inequities are part of Vietnam’s unfinished agenda.  They begin at birth and develop into vicious cycles of deprivation that affect children’s lives today, and echo through generations, generating a serious unfinished agenda for the country’s human development.

The pursuit of the MDGs show us that equitable progress is possible. Gender parity at the primary education level and a marked reduction in stunting have been achieved here in Vietnam.

We know, therefore, that a fair start in life for every child is within reach and we know what it will take to achieve this. This includes, inter alia:

* Robust data that allow us to identify the most vulnerable children and understand the challenges they face in accessing services;

* Social investments focused on the most disadvantaged children and communities and backed by committed leadership;

* Innovations, including mobile technology and the rise of social media, that make it more possible than ever to break geographical barriers and reach excluded children; and

* Stronger systems for health, education, child protection and social protection that target those at greatest risk.

In September, world leaders will again convene, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to agree to goals for making the world fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful over the next 15 years. The MDGs provide lessons that can guide this effort.

The onus is on us to apply those lessons and reach those children who have not benefitted from the MDGs. In doing so, these children can live a more prosperous life and build a better future for Vietnam.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of continuous cooperation between UNICEF and the Government of Viet Nam, we renew our long-lasting commitment to work closely with national partners to tackle the equity gaps for vulnerable children, in the post-MDG era of Sustainable Development Goals.

Editor's note: The writer is the representative of UNICEF in Vietnam. The view is personal and does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Thanh Nien News.

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