Could 2017 be the year we leave no one behind?

The Sustainable Development Goals have set ambitious targets, but there are changes we must make if we are to meet them.

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It’s safe to say that 2016 has been memorable – not always for the right reasons.

But 2016 was the first year of the Global Goals – the Sustainable Development Goals that were unanimously adopted (in 2015) by all 193 members of the United Nations, setting ambitious targets for global development, including children’s holistic needs, for the next 15 years.

If you have read previous blogs from my colleagues at Lumos, you will be well aware of the harm that institutions and orphanages cause to the children who live in them, and the burden that this places on society at large. However “good” an orphanage might seem, it cannot replace the love, attention and security provided by a safe family environment. We also know that if children live in orphanages for extended periods of time, it can lead to developmental delays, irreversible psychological damage, and increased rates of mental health problems. At Lumos, we aim to dispel various myths about the “care” that orphanages provide for children, and spread the word about what can be done to end institutionalisation within our lifetime.

Ensuring that children can grow up in their families and communities calls for an approach that focuses on tackling the root causes of why they end up in orphanages in the first place: ending poverty and discrimination, and ensuring access to essential community based services, such as inclusive education. It is these factors which often lead parents to make the impossible decision to bring their child to an orphanage, in the hope that they can receive education, medical treatment, food or shelter.

The Sustainable Development Goals set ambitious targets to tackle these root causes, including health care, education and protection from violence, exploitation and abuse. Promising to “leave no one behind”, the goals have the potential to change the lives of millions.

But as it stands, the stark reality is that children in orphanages, and others who live outside ‘households’ such as street children, trafficked children and child soldiers – some of the world’s most vulnerable children – are unlikely to be among those who benefit from the goals.

This is partly due to what might appear to be a technical issue. The way in which countries measure their populations’ progress is largely done through household-based surveys. In practical terms, this means that all households are surveyed, and therefore children who live in orphanages and others living outside of households, are simply not on the radar.

By failing to measure this group of children, their health, education and well-being are not being monitored. No one is making sure that they receive the care that the need. In order truly to leave no one behind, the international community needs to come together to develop methods that count everyone.

For the last 18 months, Lumos, in close partnership with SOS Children’s Villages and over 250 other civil society organisations, have been campaigning for this, calling for the development of new inclusive methodologies that would reach all children.

Two weeks from today, I will represent Lumos at the inaugural United Nations World Data Forum in Cape Town, taking this message with me. You can help us deliver it by signing our thunderclap* here. If we all raise our voices now for those who are currently unheard, we can make sure that they are listened to in future.

Improving methodologies alone is not enough. More broadly, we don’t actually know just how many children live in institutions and orphanages around the world – we estimate that the number is about 8 million worldwide. We do know, however, that there have been recent surges in the number of orphanages opening in countries such as Cambodia and Haiti.

In Haiti, only an estimated 15 per cent of all orphanages in the country are registered with the authorities. The lack of knowledge about these orphanages, and the more than 30,000 children who live in them, creates a toxic environment where children are at enormous risk of maltreatment, abuse and trafficking because they are on no-one’s register, they are uncounted, they simply do not count. This is why Lumos is working with the Haitian government and partners to improve monitoring techniques and ensure that all orphanages are assessed and registered. A lack of birth registration means that some children’s existence is entirely unknown, whether they live in an orphanage or on the street. This also makes it difficult for them to receive any of the aid currently being deployed in Haiti to support relief efforts after Hurricane Matthew.

The promise that the Sustainable Development Goals have made to the world is to leave no one behind. Together, we can make 2017 the year we begin counting those hidden children, giving them their rightful place on the statistical map and the global development agenda – making sure that all children count.

Merel Krediet is Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at Lumos. She is on Twitter @MerelKrediet.

*Thunderclap is a crowdspeaking platform that allows a single message to be mass-shared by a group of people.

This December, the New Statesman is joining with Lumos to raise money to help institutionalised children in Haiti return to family life. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, funds are needed to help those who have become separated from their families. Make a donation at bit.ly/lumosns.

Thanks to Lumos’s 100 per cent pledge, every penny of your donation goes straight to the programme. For more information, see: wearelumos.org.