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The Millennium Development Goals

28/12/2010: General House

The Millennium Development Goals are, as one commentator has written, here, there and everywhere. Endorsed by governments, trumpeted by the UN and embraced by much of civil society, few seem to doubt the almost religious fervour with which they are fostered.But what are these MDGs? Will they make a difference for the people who matter, or are they merely well-meaning but hollow bureaucratic inventions? And what do they mean for childrens rights? While it is not for CRIN to provide answers to these questions, this CRINMAIL aims to broaden understanding of the MDGs, sketch the main arguments for and against their use, and provide some ideas for reflection.According to the UN, the reasons for such commitment to the MDGs are clear: The Goals are achievable; they have timelines and deadlines; they are locally defined and measurable. For the first time, there is an agreed global compact in which rich and poor countries recognise that they share the responsibility to end poverty and its root causes. Only last week, as global leaders met at the UN to chart progress towards achieving the MDGs, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon demanded a renewed commitment to the targets, warning that: Eight years after we adopted the Millennium Declaration, global inequality remains exactly the same or has even deteriorated since 2000, and the planet is at serious risk of not meeting the basic needs of the poorest of the poor.President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom are just some of the global leaders to have endorsed the Goals in recent weeks, insisting that they must not be neglected during times of economic hardship.A false sense of security?Yet there are others, perhaps less audible but nonetheless fervent, beliefs about the MDGs. Professor Ashwani Saith goes so far as to condemn the MDGs as a neo-liberal exercise with endless methodological flaws, which neglects a rights-framework that would take into account structural inequality (1). Elsewhere, the MDGs have been dismissed as implausible and undermining political support for long-term engagement and partnership between rich world and poor (2), while Professor Richard Black and Dr Howard White argue that poor accountability renders the goals ineffective.Other commentators are worried about what will happen once 2015 arrives, and progress towards meeting the MDGs remains woefully inadequate.Saith has suggested that the reasons for the warm reception for the MDGs are straightforward: They envelop you in a cloud of soft words and good intentions and moral comfort; they are gentle, there is nothing conflictual in them; they are kind, they offer only good things to the deprived. They give well-meaning persons in the north-west a sense of solidarity and purpose; they provide a mechanical template of targets and monitoring indicators aptly suited to the limits of the bureaucratic mind; they form ready populist seasoning for politicians. What are the MDGs?The MDGs are listed below, with expanded definitions for those goals directly referring to children: * Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger * Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education Target 2a: Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling 2.1 Net enrolment ratio in primary education 2.2 Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of primary 2.3 Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds, women and men * Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women Target 3a: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015 3.1 Ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education 3.2 Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector 3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament * Goal 4: Reduce child mortality Target 4a: Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five 4.1 Under-five mortality rate 4.2 Infant mortality rate 4.3 Proportion of 1 year-old children immunised against measles * Goal 5: Improve maternal health Target 5a: Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio 5.1 Maternal mortality ratio 5.2 Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel Target 5b: Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health 5.3 Contraceptive prevalence rate 5.4 Adolescent birth rate 5.5 Antenatal care coverage (at least one visit and at least four visits) 5.6 Unmet need for family planning * Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases Target 6a: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS 6.1 HIV prevalence among population aged 15-24 years 6.2 Condom use at last high-risk sex 6.3 Proportion of population aged 15-24 years with comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS 6.4 Ratio of school attendance of orphans to school attendance of non-orphans aged 10-14 years Target 6b: Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it 6.5 Proportion of population with advanced HIV infection with access to antiretroviral drugs Target 6c: Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases 6.6 Incidence and death rates associated with malaria 6.7 Proportion of children under 5 sleeping under insecticide-treated bednets 6.8 Proportion of children under 5 with fever who are treated with appropriate anti-malarial drugs 6.9 Incidence, prevalence and death rates associated with tuberculosis 6.10 Proportion of tuberculosis cases detected and cured under directly observed treatment short course * Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability * Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for DevelopmentAccording to the UNDP report Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals: Making the Link, many countries have begun to integrate the MDGs into national development frameworks, through creating MDG-based national or sectoral development strategies, and using the MDGs to guide monitoring efforts.In supporting countries in their efforts to meet the MDGs, the activities of the funds and programmes of the United Nations agencies generally fall into the following four areas:• Monitoring – tracking progress toward the MDGs• Analysis – assessment of the policy dimensions of achieving the MDGs• Campaigning/mobilisation – helping to build awareness and galvanise public support for action• Operational activities – goal-driven assistance to address directly key constraints on the progress towards MDGs Where did they come from?In September 2000, building upon a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.The earliest of the major conferences to be of direct relevance was the International World Summit for Children in 1990 which set up seven major goals for child survival, development and protection to be achieved over the 1990–2000 decade; this summit took place within a year of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.The United Nations Millennium Declaration was signed by leaders of 189 countries assembled in New York on 8 September 2000.The Millennium Project was commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2002 to develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people. In 2005, the independent advisory body headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, presented its final recommendations to the Secretary-General in a synthesis volume Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. How do the MDGs correspond with childrens rights?Relation to articles of the CRC (please note this list is not exhaustive):Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education - article 28(1)(a);Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women - article 2Goal 4: Reduce child mortality - articles 6, 24(2)(a);Goal 5: Improve maternal health - article 24(2)(d);Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases - article 24;Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability - article 24Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development - articles 4, 24(4) and 28(3)Limitations and criticismsRecent reports by Save the Children and Action Aid have suggested that the failure of the MDGs to consider equality have been their undoing. However, both organisations stop short of dismissing the MDGs altogether, and instead promote a revision of their methodology.Other commentators and academics believe the MDG bandwagon should be derailed altogether, not least because they actually inhibit the incorporation and implementation of human rights.According to Saith, a number of limitations of the MDG framework should be borne in mind. These include: * Indicators: Such as for poverty and education, are potentially weak. For example, focusing only on educational enrolments does not account for drop-out rates. Feminists have argued that gender empowerment cannot be squeezed into such narrowly defined indicators. * Targets: These can be problematic if applied in the same way for different countries with different capacities. They also can also become the focus in themselves, and are therefore open to being made up or exaggerated. Furthermore, there is little point in setting targets if we are not clear about how these can be achieved. * Data: The need for data to monitor the MDGs outstrips the current availability of such data. For example, there are particular data problems for malaria and maternal mortality. * Distortions in the development agenda: False reporting, to achieve targets, may lead to policy distortions, while blind acceptance of the Goals by donors means development organisations are having to adapt their policy in line with the MDGs, even if such policy is flawed. * A narrow outlook: While the MDGs proclaim themselves a global movement, the focus is on developing countries: Whatever happened to poverty and deprivation in the advanced economies? Are they to be silenced? Saith continues: What the MDG project is essentially saying, implicitly, is that it is only absolute poverty that matters. So long as that is improved, there is no need to worry or even to think about and monitor overall inequality in societies, whether in the north or the south. There is also very little on the relationship between the economies of the global south and the global north, or of redistributions, such as land. * Rights missing: The Goals are mainly concerned with a narrow view of poverty reduction, and a therefore a narrow view of development. There is no mention of, for example, people with disabilities, migrants, discrimination or other rights-based factors in access to healthcare and education. He argues that: The agenda for value-driven global development is detached from the more urgent task of alleviating absolute poverty. Indeed, according to womens rights organisation MADRE, the MDGs posit housing, health care, and access to food and water not as non-negotiable and universal rights, but as needs to be met. By extension, the poor are not seen as autonomous subjects demanding that governments meet their legal obligations, but as a passive target group of policymaking. MADRE also notes that the MDGs are sponsored jointly by the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the United Nations operates within a human rights framework, the missions of the World Bank and IMF are to advance a set of economic policies that are often at odds with human rightsProfessor Saith concludes that the MDGs exercise hides more than it reveals, and its many areas of deafening silence are perhaps more significant than its litanous chanting of the familiar, well-meaning, feel-good mantras on human development. Working with the MDGsThe UNDP report, above , while recognising that in practice the two concepts often remain on separate, parallel tracks, also goes on to argue: The human rights framework provides an important tool for achieving the MDGs by helping to ensure the Goals are pursued in an equitable, just and sustainable manner. It also adds an unassailable normative framework that grounds development work within a universal set of values. Linking MDGs and human rights, helps us stay true to the spirit and vision of the Millennium Declaration, which places human rights at the heart of efforts to achieve human development.The authors suggest that human rights and the MDGs have much in common. They share guiding principles such as participation, empowerment, national ownership; they serve as tools for reporting processes that can hold governments accountable; and, most fundamentally, they share the ultimate objective of promoting human well-being and honouring the inherent dignity of all people.However, they concede that there are differences between them too: human rights are wider in scope; human rights target all countries; human rights are legally binding and formal; human rights have no deadline; the MDGs are more conducive to measurement.Finally, says the report, the main contributions of adopting a HRBA to the MDG agenda lie in the following four areas: * A Lens of Analysis: Improving ways of how to look at the policy dimension of achieving the MDGs. * A Framework for Guiding and Influencing State Action: Providing principles and parameters for how to address MDG progress. * Setting Minimum Standards of Service Delivery: Providing standards for how to judge the quality of MDG services. * Emphasising the Accountability of all Relevant Actors: Framing MDG progress in the context of an internationally agreed legal and normative frameworkThe HuriLink WebPortal is an on-line tool which presents the experiences and challenges that practitioners face when striving to link human rights and the Millennium Development Goals in their work.Professor Saith has noted how some development practitioners, working locally within a rights-driven approach, have said how the public acceptance of the MDGs as benchmarks provides at least some strength to them in their negotiations with reluctant and stingy governments and international donors and agencies.Many commentators have also argued that the MDGs serve to enhance and focus advocacy initiatives./www.crin.org/

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