This global progress report presents key data, trends and developments in women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and well-being followed by a deeper dive into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report concludes with recommendations for accelerating progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda even in such challenging times, with an emphasis on partnership and clear-eyed recognition of the consequences of failing to do better.
Women’s, adolescents’ and children’s health and rights are facing setbacks to an extent that has not been seen in over a generation. For the most part, this can be attributed to the combined impact of the the “three C’s” – COVID-19, conflict and climate change – which represent distinct yet overlapping challenges to the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents.
The pandemic itself and early responses aimed at controlling it resulted in disruptions in health, education, social protection and economic systems, all of which have had especially negative impacts on women’s, children’s and adolescents’ lives. People who were already poor and marginalized – categories in which women and children are disproportionately represented – have fared the worst. Meanwhile, the world faces a growing number of humanitarian crises resulting from conflict and climate change. Millions have been driven from their homes by war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also worsened an emerging food insecurity emergency affecting many countries.
With all these shifts and developments – and in this third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent rising levels of food and economic insecurity – it is important to take stock of how the world is doing in fulfilling the promise of the Sustainable Development Agenda for women, children, and adolescents. Data show a critical regression across virtually every major measure of childhood wellbeing, and many key indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- A child born in a low-income country has an average life expectancy at birth of around 63 years, compared to 80 in a high-income country. This devastating 17-year survival gap has changed little over recent years.
- In 2020, 5 million children died even before the age of 5, mostly from preventable or treatable causes. Meanwhile, most maternal, child, and adolescent deaths and stillbirths are concentrated in just two regions – sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
- More than 45 million children had acute malnutrition in 2020, a life-threatening condition which leaves them vulnerable to death, developmental delays and disease. Nearly three-quarters of these children live in lower-middle-income countries.
- The six countries with the highest numbers of internally displaced persons – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen – are also among the top 10 food insecure countries.
- A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has around a 130 times higher risk of dying from causes relating to pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Europe or North America.
- Millions of children and their families are experiencing poor physical and mental health from recent humanitarian disasters in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen
The time is now for renewed commitment to achieving the SDGs and improving the lives of women, children, and adolescents. Greater investments are needed in primary health care systems, in improving women’s and adolescents’ empowerment and life opportunities, and in addressing major crises such as growing food insecurity.