I recently visited Za’atari refugee camp – a sprawling settlement in the desolate Jordanian desert. Around 70,000 Syrian refugees live there – a population roughly the size of Bath. But that’s where the similarities begin and end.
For tens of thousands of children, Za’atari is a tough place to grow up. Brothers Yaman, age five, and Mohammed, three are two of them. When bombs devastated their district in Syria, Mohammed started having high fevers and fits. Yaman stopped talking altogether.
That’s when their parents decided to abandon their home and trekked through the desert in search of refuge. But even when they got to the camp they didn’t get help. It took six months to get any healthcare for Mohammed.
When I saw a short film of Yaman and Mohammed I couldn’t help thinking, what if that was my son? I remembered times when my son needed emergency help; the worry and distress I felt. But also the security of being able to call 999 or drive him to the local A&E.
For Mohammed and Yaman that basic healthcare just wasn’t available.
The world’s forgotten children
What’s more, the bare facts of their story are far from unusual. A report released today by Save the Children reveals that millions of children are being denied life-saving healthcare and schooling – not ‘just’ because they’re poor, but also because of who they are and where they live.
They’re the children the world chooses to forget.
Some of those children being left behind – like Mohammed and Yaman – are refugees. Others are at risk because they’re a girl from a poor family, live in the ‘wrong’ place, belong to a minority ethnic group, or have a disability.
At its worst, this discrimination is deadly: millions of the world’s poorest children are being denied life-saving services.
And for those forgotten children who survive, discrimination can take away the things that keep them safe and the education that could lift them out of poverty.
Our new global poll – released today – points to the full extent of discrimination in childhood and the damage it causes. It found that just under 40% of adults worldwide experienced discrimination as they were growing up, many missing out on critical services because of their ethnicity, sex or because they have a disability or are a refugee.
Our biggest challenge
We shouldn’t forget, the world has made tremendous progress for many children. The number of children dying has halved since 1990. And millions more children are in school.
But our biggest challenge is yet to come.
Today, the children who are being denied access to life-saving healthcare or life-transforming education miss out because of who or where they are. That’s not good enough.
That’s why today we’re launching a new three-year campaign, Every Last Child, to remember the world’s forgotten children – and to make sure that every child is able to survive and learn. For us that means getting vital services to 15 million children over the next three years. You can help us reach every last child.
Achieving the global goals
In September last year, leaders from every country in the world made a global declaration that together we will achieve three extraordinary things by 2030 – end extreme poverty, combat climate change, and fight injustice and inequality. I’m proud that Save the Children helped realise the creation of a set of truly ambitious Global Goals. Now we need to see them realised.
The launch our Every Last Child campaign is our first step towards attaining those Global Goals. It’s a tremendously exciting opportunity. And one we can’t afford to squander.
A united approach
We’re taking a new campaigning approach that reflects the times we live in. We won’t just be calling on the presidents and prime ministers of the world’s richest countries to take action – though, of course, they have a role to play.
We’ll be campaigning for change in countries all around the world. We’ll work with governments across the globe to finance plans to ensure that every child – no matter whether they are a girl or a refugee, regardless of their physical ability or their ethnicity – gets the life-saving healthcare they need and the education and future they deserve.
That’s why we’ll be asking every president and prime minister to change the laws and policies of their countries to focus on the children currently at the back of the queue – the children who are missing out on healthcare and education – and to put those children first.
In the corridors of power – be it the local governor’s office in Wajir County, Kenya or the United Nations in New York – we’ll make sure our political leaders hear loud and clear from and about the children who until now have been forgotten: the challenges they face, the hopes they harbour and the changes they want to see.