9 Things You Didn’t Know About the SDGs And How They Impact The Lives Of Children

The extent to which the world delivers on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will directly affect the future of millions of children - and thus, our shared future as a global community. The SDGs are universal in scope, and their call to leave no one behind puts the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people - including children - at the top of the agenda.

But two years since world leaders committed to achieving the SDGs,are we on track to achieve the goals for children? Do we even have enough information to know? Two years ago, with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals,world leaders embarked on an ambitious agenda to give every child the best chance in life.

However, in the first comprehensive assessment of progress toward achieving these goals, UNICEF has discovered alarming global data-deficiencies affecting a staggering 64 countries with a lack of information on how to meet and measure the goals.

More than half a billion children live in countries where most child related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators are not measured.

“More than half the world’s children live in countries where we either can’t track their SDG progress,or, where we can, they are woefully off-track,” said Laurence Chandy,UNICEF Director for the Division ofData, Research and Policy.“Children around the world arecounting on us - and we can’t evencount all of them. The world mustrenew its commitment to attainingthe SDGs, starting with renewing itscommitment to measuring them,”said Chandy.

Five dimensions of children’s rights

UNICEF is calling for a systematic and coordinated effort to ensure all countries have minimum data coverage for children, irrespective of their resources and capabilities. If the world is going to eradicate poverty,address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies for all by 2030, it starts with a clear picture of where we are and where we need to go.


  1. There are 520 million“uncounted” children – i.e. children who live in countries which completely lack data on at least two-thirds of child-related SDG indicators, or lack sufficient data to assess their progress.
  2. Where data are available, there is insufficient progress toward the SDGs in 37 additional countries.
  3. At current rate of progress,between now and 2030, 10 million additional children will die of preventable causes before their fifth birthday.
  4. By 2030, if current trends hold,31 million children will be left stunted due to lack of adequate nutrition.
  5. 650 million children live incountries where, without accelerated progress, at least two-thirds of the SDGs are out of reach. In fact, due to population expansion in those countries, even more children could face bad out comes in life by 2030 than now.
  6. The impact of the lack of data on children can be avoided by establishing stronger shared norms on data concerning children,including common approaches to measuring emerging threats facing children, capturing missing child populations, and sharing data to enable vulnerable children to be more effectively identified, while protecting children’s privacy.
  7. At current rates, 22 million children will miss out on pre-primary education by 2030.
  8. 150 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030 if current trends hold.
  9. UNICEF estimates that by 2030, 670 million people, many of them children, will still be without basic drinking water.

Zahra Husseini, 18, holdsher 6-month-old daughter Zaineb in a hallway at an emergency shelter in Vienna.They, and Zaineb’s father Abbas, are from Ghazni Afghanistan.Photo - Ashley Gilbertson

For the records, of the 44 indicators linked to nine SDGs are specific to children, 39 were assessed for data availability and progress.On average, 75 to 80 percent of indicators in countries either have insufficient data or show insufficient progress.


Progress for Every Child in the SDG Era assesses the world’s performance to date, focusing on 44 indicators that directly concern 2030’s most important constituency:children. A total of 44 child-related indicators are integrated across the17 SDGs. This report arranges these indicators into five dimensions of children’s rights as follows:-

Every Child Survives and Thrives

Progress against global 2030 targets is relatively strong in this dimension, with a slim majority of targets already met or on track,among those for which there are sufficient trend data. Though far from complete, data coverage is also strongest among the five dimensions- with most countries reporting on most indicators.

The 12 indicators assessed here include tracking under-five mortality,malnutrition and new HIV infections,as well as interventions such as delivery care and immunization.

Every Child Learns

Only a minority of countries can claim to be on track on this dimension - while data are insufficient to draw trends for the bulk of countries and indicators,reflecting the urgent need to institutionalize new measurement methodologies for learning.The five indicators assessed here include measuring completion of education from pre-primary to secondary; the attainment of adequate learning outcomes; and access to WASH in schools.

A girl eats food in a bowl, at the local ‘posyandu’ (community health post) in Klaten District, Central Java Province.The food has been prepared by ‘cadres’(volunteer community health workers),who play an important role in Indonesia’s health system. - Photo by Josh Estey.

Every Child is Protected From Violence and Exploitation

Very ambitious global targets and a relatively immature monitoring framework for this dimension mean that a very small number of countries are on track to achieve only a few of the indicators analysed here. In most cases, data are insufficient to uncover trends.The 10 indicators assessed here include sexual and intimate partner violence against girls, violent discipline, child labour, female genital mutilation or cutting, child marriage, and birth registration.

Every Child Lives in A Aafe and Clean Environment

Progress on this dimension is mixed, with a majority of indicator targets met or on track, among those countries and indicators with data. Still, many countries have insufficient or no data.The eight indicators assessed here include reliance on clean fuels, deaths from air pollution and disasters, and access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Every Child Has A Fair Chance in Life

With many countries only now establishing baselines for standardised child poverty measures, it is almost impossible to assess progress on this dimension,so far.The four indicators assessed here include monetary and multidimensional poverty rates and social protection coverage.


The SDGs’ guiding principle to leave no one behind demands a look beyond national averages to see which children and communities are missing out, and why. But data quality and collection practices are often not up to the task.Internationally comparable,disaggregated data are available for relatively few indicators - especiallyin some areas, such as for learning.

Existing disaggregated data reveal stark inequities related to household wealth, urban or ruralresidence, or gender. Other relevant stratifiers, such as ethnicity, disability or migration status, are not captured here given data limitations. And there are very limited data on some of the world’s most vulnerable children- like those living in institutions or on the streets - as they may not be captured in household surveys.


Progress for Every Child in the SDG Era reveals the magnitude - and the urgency - of the challenge: On average, 75 to 80 percent of child relevant indicators in each country either have insufficient data or show insufficient progress to meet global SDG targets by 2030.

Data from many developing countries are unavailable for different reasons. In some cases, countries are constrained in their data collection efforts by capacity or other technical challenges. But whatever the reason, a paucity of data about the situation of children will also constrain countries in their efforts to achieve the SDGs. And if incomplete data mask poor performance, the challenge is even greater than it appears.


There is much talk among the global development community of a data revolution already in the making that can enable transformational change for the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. But the data in our report tell a different story:The gaps in our knowledge are vast, and progress is too slow to achieve the SDGs. And despite the aspirations of Agenda 2030, at this stage, a great many children are being left behind.

We know that progress is possible on data. Some countries,regions and sectors have shot ahead, advancing new data initiatives that make the most of often limited resources. These positive outliers demonstrate that much can be done to remedy the data deficiencies that keep the most vulnerable children invisible and unreached. We identify four common factors that lie behind these successes:

• Global leadership

• Regional cooperation

• Technological innovation

• Advocacy


These four examples show that progress can be made - and made rapidly - to collect and use SDG data in support of children. Governments are ultimately accountable to generate the data that will guide and measure achievement of the 2030 Goals. But their partners in the international community have an obligation to support their efforts drawing on their individual strengths.This is the basis for SDG17, which calls for a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, including to develop countries’ statistical capabilities.

This is the basis for SDG 17, which calls for a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, including to develop countries’ statistical capabilities.We identify three principles that should under pin this effort and that will guide UNICEF’s work over the next 12years:

  • Data as the spine of system strengthening

           The effort to improve data collection and capacity is inseparable from the broader effort to build strong service delivery systems,whether in health or education,social services or border control.We will invest in long-term efforts to improve the quality, coverage and coordination of governments’administrative data systems that concern children.

  • Leave no country behind

           Global support to data monitoring and capacity resembles a messy patch work. We will urge systematic and coordinated efforts to ensure all countries have minimum data coverage for children,irrespective of their resources and capabilities. This will require greater cooperation with industrialized economies to ensure reporting to custodian agencies, and investing in new data solutions in conflict and disaster-affected areas, where reliance on regular surveys and routine data systems may not be feasible.

  • Shared norms beginning with open data

           The monitoring framework of the SDGs represents a formidable exercise in agreeing on universal approaches to measurement, while still recognizing the value of local adaption for country ownership.The need for stronger shared normson data remains great, especially when it comes to children. We will advocate for common approaches to measuring emerging threats facing children, capturing missing child populations such as those in institutions or migrating, and to sharing data to enable vulnerable children to be more effectively identified, while protecting children’s privacy.

 In 2015, the global community committed itself to achieving the SDGs, including bold goals for children. Three years later, the scale of the task represented by the goals has come into sharp relief. We cannot sleepwalk to 2030, assuming business as usual will realize our ambitions for children. Rather, we must stride with purpose to ensure every child is counted, and no child is left behind.