24 June 2011

The Unintended Consequences of the MDGs for Youth

Placing a large focus on infants (under the age of 5) may lead to neglecting other children. A report from UNICEF finds that a significant part of the world's population (1.2 billion to be exact) may be ignored due the focus that the Millennium Development Goals has placed on infants. Prevention Action shares a summary from the UNICEF report.
According to the UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report, almost 1.2 billion (or 18 per cent of) the world’s population are between 10-19 years of age. Most of these children live in developing countries and have benefited from efforts to improve the UN Millennium Development Goals during their lifetime. Much of this effort is funded by international donor agencies like the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development, who have supported the UN’s approach to improve the wellbeing of young children.

However, much of the efforts to improve the lives of people in developing countries over the last few years has focused specifically on the health and wellbeing of children aged 0-5 years. In fact, at least three out of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals target younger children, and make no reference to adolescents. These include the reduction of child mortality rates for those under five, improvement of maternal health, and improvement of universal primary education attainment. Others focus specifically on heath indicators rather than a set target population.

The targets set by the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2000 focused on young children primarily because the health indicators for young mothers and children under five were very poor, and this had a direct effect on reducing the world’s overall population development. Designed by Unicef and other international organisations, they were established to address the declining health of women and young children’s health as a means of reducing global poverty...
Missing from the excerpt are the five reasons why such a significant focus has been placed on infants (read the entire piece here). As the conclusion says, the focus is warranted, but the consequence of making it acute may not be fully realized.
While the reasons for focusing on adolescents are clear, an estimate of the financial returns expected for these investments are not. The evidence put forward by the report make it difficult to hypothesize what the returns on improving the lives of these young people might be. Despite making an argument for the investment opportunity, proof of its efforts are absent from the report and so it is difficult for policy makers with tight resources to make the right decisions.
The point of sharing this is not to suggest that policy should suddenly shift to make up for the gap. It is also not to harp on the MDGs. Rather, this is another example of a widely held idea which, when implemented, can potentially cause harm to some groups. I think it would be tough to find a person who will argue that the health of young children is of the utmost importance. With the rate of death for children under five so high, getting them past that stage of adolescence is vital to ensuring a longer life. However, so much focus on one part might lead to problems later on.

I am interested in knowing more about this and what evidence there is to this happening. I would not be surprised if there were negative consequences to the focus on infants, but can only guess at this point until there is data to show that it is the case.

Any researchers want to take this on?