27/10/2015 8:08 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Let Our Children Guide Us On The Path To Sustainable Development Goals

KARIM SAHIB via Getty Images
Iraqi displaced children play at sunset at a temporary camp set up to shelter people fleeing violence in northern Iraq on June 27, 2014 in Aski kalak, 40 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

"I am here to say we have beautiful hearts and hopes and want to soar in the sky," said Nisha Das, a girl with disability from a Kolkata slum. It was July 2013, and she was talking at the 67th UN General Assembly's Thematic Debate on Reducing Inequality in New York. Nisha was speaking on behalf of millions of India's children whose dreams had not been met by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as the world had promised them. Now that the MDGs - the most successful anti-poverty movement in history and an international charter of aspirations put together by the UN in 2000 - have come to an end, India is peering into its mixed bag of results.

The country's efforts towards fulfilling its commitments towards the MDG goals have indeed borne fruit. In the areas of reducing poverty and achieving gender parity in primary school enrollment (and a likely reaching of parity in secondary and tertiary education by 2015), India has fared well. But on the other hand, the nation is lagging behind on targets for achieving universal primary school enrollment and completion and achieving universal youth literacy, women, reducing child and infant mortality, and improving access to adequate sanitation to eliminate open defecation. Despite India's contribution and significance for these global development strategies being immense -- and emphasised many times over by the Indian government and the UN alike -- it is worrying that we have not been able to achieve better results.

While the Millennium Development Goals India Country Report 2015, released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, downplays India's underperformance saying it is "less than that at the desired levels" and "less than desirable progress in some areas," the fact remains that issues are more critical than they are made to appear. The lagging is evident when we consider how globally, during the MDG period, the number of people living in extreme poverty has reduced by half. The rate of children dying before their fifth birthday has declined by almost 53%, while the maternal mortality ratio declined by 45%.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) follow, and expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), honouring new commitments to end poverty and hunger, end violence against children, end preventable child deaths and end child labour. The SDGs aim to address some of the criticisms levelled against the MDGs too -- that it excluded the extreme margins, victims of child marriage and conflicts, and skirted the issue of climate change. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states that the SDGs would "endeavour to reach the furthest behind first." With a few positive indicators, some lagging behind and some almost off-track in the last round, India certainly needs to revise its priorities to align with the SDGs, launched at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly -- three years after Nisha Das's address.

The SDGs assume critical relevance to India especially since its children are keenly looking forward to a better world -- like Nisha Das, many other children have been part of the formulation process. Rekha Kumari, Amar Thakur, Monica, Rohit and more than 50,000 other children from India, living in most vulnerable contexts have shared their aspirations and dreams in the process, each being a brick in this house of dreams. It shelters three of their biggest ones -- to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change.

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