“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, states the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This mantra must be at the heart of foreign policy, not only in diplomacy but in development too. While all are born equal, not all have equal opportunities, and we must do all we can to make equality of “dignity and rights” a reality, and work hardest for those who are most vulnerable.
Save the Children’s new report, Every Last Child, is a reminder that this is a significant task. While the progress made since the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 has been enormous, millions are not seeing the benefits because they are discriminated against. Children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to experience physical and sexual violence than their able-bodied peers. Indigenous groups make up 5% of the global population but 15% of those living in poverty. Four hundred million children from minority ethnic and religious groups are being discriminated against worldwide.
Discrimination is a major cause of poverty, and a childhood of exclusion can be the difference between a lifetime of prosperity or destitution. However, it is not addressed as a cause of poverty. This is a hurdle in thinking that we need to overcome; we now need to be bold about making aid challenge injustice.
Our aid budget saves lives, but it must also combat exclusion. In the era of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the “leaving no-one behind” promise, international development must put the hardest to reach first. Save the Children’s report launches a three year campaign aiming to do just this. One of their key recommendations is to make sure that aid spending is focussed on the children who are forgotten about because of who they are, where they are from or what they believe.
To focus aid in this way, we need the right data. We need to know who the most vulnerable children are, where they live, what they need – and we need proof that aid is reaching them. We also need to bolster civil society and work with partner governments to ensure that excluded children and their communities are represented, and able to hold their governments to account. And we need to reform tax systems to ensure that developing countries can invest in the public services that level the playing field and ensure every child has access to healthcare and learning.
The development sector must change, at donor, agency and recipient level, to fight for human rights, rather than regarding it as a subsidiary issue. We cannot stand by while discrimination holds people back from the progress of development, and I’m pleased that Save the Children’s new campaign takes up this challenge, and look forward to supporting it over the next three years.
Fiona Bruce MP is a member of the House of Commons International Development Select Committee