A petition signed by 1 million out-of-school Pakistani children demanding their right to education is to be presented Friday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The same day, a coalition that includes the Global March Against Child Labour, Walk Free, Girls Not Brides and members of Plan International’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign will lay out their plans to end child slavery by 2015. They intend to petition all governments over the next year and will be led by Kailash Satyarthi, the head of India’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“Save the Childhood”) movement, who last month persuaded Parliament to pass India’s first laws against child trafficking.
In a sign that young campaigners will become as significant as the young bloggers of the Arab Spring, they plan to reassemble July 12 in New York, where, on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai will make her first public speech since her lifesaving treatment.
Every year 10 million girls marry between the ages of 11 and 13. Fifteen million children are condemned to working full time in mines and sweatshops, on farms and as domestic labor. No scientific discovery or technological breakthrough is needed to build the 4 million classrooms and employ the 2 million teachers necessary to achieve universal education — just cash. But global education spending — only $3 billion a year at its peak — has been frozen for three years and is being cut.
With progress stalled, young civil rights leaders who represent the world’s most marginalized children are questioning core assumptions that were the basis of our decade-long crusade against poverty. They are asking why the very people the Millennium Development Goals were designed to help most have become those most likely to be left behind. With fewer than 1,000 days left until the goals’ deadline, Adam Wagstaff of the World Bank has shown that, despite commitments to reduce infant and maternal mortality among the poorest, death rates for poor infants and their mothers are falling far slower than among the rest of the population. Even when we have the power to target donor resources directly to the most marginalized — with immunization and antenatal care, for example — the top 60 percent are making more progress than the bottom 40 percent.
Similarly, progress toward the Millennium Development Goal of universal education by 2015 has stopped because of a failure to reach the marginalized, including child laborers and child brides. While the public justification for all our efforts is to offer the most help to the poorest and most vulnerable, setting a universal goal without targeting the most disadvantaged is a recipe for them to be left behind. And when the next set of Millennium Development Goals — with more ambitious universal targets for learning outputs and secondary education — raise the ceiling before we have put the floor in place, then they will continue to lose out.