Photo credit: Charlie Forgham-Bailey / Save the Children, Oct 2018

Getting to 2030 Vision to End Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths: Building on the global progress for women and children

Written by Smita Baruah, Senior Director, Global Health and Development Policy, Save the Children

Children today have a better chance than any time in history to grow healthy, be educated and be protected, as noted in Save the Children’s latest report, Changing Lives in our Lifetime: Global Childhood Report. Today there are 49 million fewer children stunted, a form of malnutrition that impacts a child’s ability to survive and thrive than two decades ago. There are 4.4 million fewer child deaths than they were in the year 2000.

These successes are not by accident.  Strong and increased political leadership at both global and national level have greatly contributed to changing the lives of women and children around the world in addition to scaling up of proven interventions and innovation.

The United States is one donor government who deserves much credit for accelerating progress on women and children’s health, beginning with its leadership at the first child survival resolution in 1982 through hosting the Child Survival Call to Action meeting in 2012 that set the stage for the vision to end preventable child and maternal deaths by 2030.

Critical Role of US Leadership in Reducing Maternal and Child Deaths
Last month, USAID launched its 5th annual progress report, Acting on the Call: A Focus on the Journey to Self-Reliance for Preventing Child and Maternal Deaths.  The report notes that in 2018 alone, USAID helped reach 81 million women and children access essential — and often life-saving — health services. USAID’s contributions have led to significant reductions in child mortality in many countries such as in Bangladesh where child deaths were reduced by 63% since 2000 and in Uganda, which experienced a 66% in reduction of child deaths during the same time period.

The report demonstrates the ways in which USAID has also helped increase national political will. Since the Child Survival Call to Action forum in 2012, governments in more than half of USAID’s priority countries for maternal and child survival have increased their domestic budgets for health.  In Uganda, for example, USAID worked with the Ministry of Health to increase the percentage of the allocated budget for health from 79% to 97%. 

Bangladesh, a USAID maternal and child health priority country, is an example of how donor assistance coupled with national political will, creates change for women and children. According to the Global Childhood Report, Bangladesh has had a sustained commitment to improving child health despite changing leadership. With donor and their own investments, Bangladesh has focused to strengthen health systems and scale up proven solutions for mothers, children and newborns with a focus on equity. However, focusing on health interventions alone did not contribute to Bangladesh’s success.  Women and girls’ education and empowerment are also key factors driving progress as well as the engagement of civil society, including children and young people.

Getting to 2030
In 2015, the United States and other world leaders and stakeholders committed to a set of global goals which includes the ambitious goal of ending preventable and child and maternal deaths by 2030. There is indeed much to celebrate.  To continue on the path to achieve the global goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, U.S. and other stakeholders must continue to focus on continuing to invest in maternal and child survival programs and designing and implementing highest-impact evidence based interventions. 

This also includes investing more resources in areas that are becoming the greatest contributions to child deaths: newborn health, pneumonia and addressing malnutrition.  Without increased focus on malnutrition, Save the Children’s report notes that in 2030, 119 million children will still find their physical and cognitive development stunted by malnutrition, with the poorest children at highest risk. Addressing pneumonia must also be prioritized. According to the Global Childhood Report, childhood pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of deaths in children under age 5 and it kills more children than diarrhea, malaria and HIV combined.

While much progress has been made in increasing national governments’ political will to reduce child and maternal deaths, resources must follow this commitment. The U.S. should work with national and local governments to continue to increase its own domestic investments in health, particularly for maternal and child survival interventions. This also includes working with national and local governments in ensuring that these resources are reaching the hardest to reach populations. Women and children who are furthest behind must be identified and prioritized in terms of investments, service provision and decision making. US should also work with governments to ensure that all women and children, especially excluded women and children, are counted to measure progress towards reducing child and maternal deaths. 

Going beyond just working with the Ministries of Health is critical.  U.S. and other stakeholders must continue to engage local civil society in the efforts to change the lives of women and children. In Ethiopia, for example, Kes Melakeselam Hailemnase, a 64 year old Orthodox Priest and head of Embaalaje Woreda Orthodox Churches Forum, reached more than 8.000 individuals with maternal, child, newborn health messages during regular sermons and other religious festivities after receiving training on Community Based Newborn Care, organized for faith-based leaders.  Kes’ efforts helped Abeba Mesele, a 21 year old mother of two, learn the importance of going to a health facility for antenatal check up and early post natal check ups.  

Change often happens at the local, community level. As USAID works with countries in their journey to self-reliance, development plans must be made in consultation with recipient country governments and civil society.  To ensure sustainability and self-reliance, development must be owned by the people of the countries receiving foreign assistance.

As the 2019 report shows, USAID has greatly contributed to building in country capacity by training health professionals including community health workers. This may not be enough. With increased natural disasters and the resurgence of pandemic threats such as Ebola, U.S. should work with governments and other stakeholders in helping to build resilient health systems. 

Finally, continued U.S. partnership and assistance is critical to a country’s success in improving the lives of women and children around the world. USAID should maintain evidence-based, highest-impact interventions and a comprehensive approach to addressing maternal and child survival and continue to provide robust resources.

Photo credit: Caroline Trutmann Marconi / Save the Children, Nov 2018

Mexico’s Progress in Ending Child Labor Is a Father’s Story of Progress As Well

The latest child labor estimates tell a story of real progress and of a job unfinished, as outlined in Save the Children’s Global Childhood Report: Changing Lives in our Lifetime. Child labor rates and the global number of child laborers have declined dramatically in recent years. Globally, rates are down 40%, and 94 million fewer children are working now than in 2000. But progress has slowed and the world remains far from the 2025 target to end child labor in all its forms. 1

Much of the decline in child labor in recent years has been credited to active policy efforts to extend and improve schooling, extend social protection, expand basic services and establish legal frameworks against child labor.2

Mexico has made impressive progress against child labor, cutting its rate by 80%. This progress deeply personal for many families with young children who hope for a better future for their sons and daughters, free from child labor. 

Amador is one such parent.

The father of five school-age boys himself, Amador dropped out of school to work and make money when he was about 10. “My dad was disabled and I was the last child,” he said. “I did not have an education. I still don’t read very well.”

Amador’s story was much more common in 2000 than it is now. Just a generation ago, 1 of every 4 Mexican children aged 5 to 14 was engaged in child labor.5  Today, Mexico has cut its child labor rate from 24% to 5% – a remarkable decline. This progress saves an estimated 4 million children a year from child labor.6

Data suggest Mexico’s progress has been broad-based, benefiting both male and female children, children from urban and rural areas, and children from all regions. Progress has been strong among the poorest households, and equity gaps are shrinking.7

The Mexican government regularly collects and disseminates information on child labor.8 It has also invested in education and provided incentives for children to attend school rather than work. Education reforms in the 1970s and 1980s helped create a new generation of more educated parents less inclined to send their children to work.9 The Prospera program, launched in 1997, offers small cash payments to impoverished parents to keep children in school and attend workshops on nutrition, hygiene and family planning.10 Improvements in living standards and an overall reduction in poverty also contributed to the decline in child labor, as did the movement of jobs away from the agricultural sector.11

Save the Children Mexico has partnered with the sugar industry to better comply with Mexico’s child labor laws and make changes in the way business is done. This alliance, established in 2012, identifies child labor risks throughout the sugar supply chain, finds alternatives for at-risk children and supports community work to prevent child labor in the fields. The partnership also advocates for better child labor regulations and has working groups to promote best practices.

There are still an estimated 3.2 million child laborers in Mexico, 134 so increased attention on this problem is needed, especially in rural areas. Amador is determined that his five boys will not be among that statistic. “I’m giving my children an education… so they can study and be someone in life.”

1. El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017”

2. Understanding Children’s Work Programme. Understanding Trends in Child Labour: A Joint ILO-UNICEF-The World Bank Report. (Rome: 2017)

3. ILO. Global Estimates of Child Labour: Results and Trends, 2012-2016. and ILO. Global Child Labour Trends 2000 to 2004. (Geneva: 2006)

4. ILO. Marking Progress Against Child Labour: Global Estimates and Trends 2000-2012. (Geneva: 2013)

5. Includes household chores for at least 21 hours. 

6. National estimates for 2017 suggest child labor rates have declined further, to 3.6% of children aged 5-14. Source: El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017” (2018) 

7. Understanding Children’s Work Program. The Mexican Experience in Reducing Child Labour: Empirical Evidence and Policy Lessons. (2012) 

8. UNICEF. Child Rights in Mexico.

9. Understanding Children’s Work Program. The Mexican Experience in Reducing Child Labour: Empirical Evidence and Policy Lessons.

10. Dávila Lárraga, Laura. How Does Prospera Work? Best Practices in the Implementation of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Inter-American Development Bank: April 2016)

11. El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. “3.2 Milliones de Niños y Niñas y Adolescentes de 5 a 17 Años Trabajan en México: Módulo de Trabajo Infantil (MTI) 2017”