To Achieve Sustainable Development, We Must Reach the Most Marginalized and Vulnerable Children

Every September, world leaders convene in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings and discuss the most pressing global issues. Because countries around the world are intensifying efforts to achieve the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the end of 2015, there will undoubtedly be much attention paid to our progress to date and plans for the future. As leaders formulate a framework to eliminate poverty by 2030, it is critical that they address the needs of the most vulnerable children and youth, that their rights are protected and their voices are heard. One such vulnerable group that is underacknowledged and underrepresented is comprised of children and youth who have lost or are at risk of losing the care of their parents.

The MDGs have made tremendous progress in raising the profile of child welfare issues, and collective global efforts toward the achievement of these goals has improved the lives of many children and families. Unfortunately, the roughly 151 million children* around the world who have lost 1 or both parents -- a number assumed to be significantly higher due to underreporting -- and the even greater number who are at risk of losing parental care, largely continue to live under the radar, unreached by the international community's efforts to date.

Oftentimes these children face high rates of poverty, instability and violence. And often they live in obscurity, deprived of the critical services and protection needed for a safe and healthy childhood. For the fraction of these children who do have access to services, it doesn't always mean they are of acceptable quality. In SOS Children's Villages' extensive experience working with this group, we have found that not only is there still a global lack of available, quality alternative care services, but much more can be done to ensure care facilities conform to the United Nation's Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and are not potentially harming these already incredibly vulnerable children. At critical stages in their development, these children suffer the long-term negative impact on their mental and physical well-being -- the result of harsh parenting, violence, poverty, and/or low quality alternative care services.

In addition to suffering the consequences of this global lack of quality care services and child protection systems, young people aging out of care can also often face what can seem like insurmountable barriers to accessing higher-level education, vocational training, and opportunities for decent work. Without the ongoing support of a stable family and home environment, and without targeted governmental efforts to meet their needs, many young people leaving alternative care enter communities with little or no support.

Together, we must raise our voices for these vulnerable children and youth. They too are the future of their communities and of our world. The international community must acknowledge their heightened vulnerability and invest in their care and protection if we hope to overcome societal inequalities and sustainably eradicate poverty. This means highlighting the challenges they face and the support they need to succeed; this means encouraging their involvement and amplifying their voices in the ongoing post-2015 framework discussions; and this means more comprehensively tracking the progress of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to ensure global efforts reach some of the world's most vulnerable children: those that have lost or are at risk of losing parental care.

Without our addressing the care and protection needs of this particularly vulnerable group, these children and youth are less able to break the cycle of poverty, overcome existing inequalities and achieve their full potential.

*UNICEF, Child Info: Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women - Orphan Estimates, April 2013.

SOS Children's Villages released a new report this month that highlights the heightened vulnerability of children who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care. Click here to view the report.