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Social progress over the last 20 years: have all children benefited?

A review of international trends in the 1980s and 1990s offers a mixed picture of changes in child welfare. While most social indicators improved, on average, in most countries (with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa and the transitional economies), there is evidence that divergence in social achievements is increasing. Roughly one third of the world’s children may have been bypassed by improvements in health, education, nutrition and poverty reduction, or may have even witnessed a deterioration since 1980. This growing polarization among nations, regions and social groups is confirmed by indicators of poverty and income inequality. These suggest that child poverty is static or worsening (except in the case of a few Asian countries), while child survival, school enrolments and access to basic services have, on average, improved. It is clear that the welfare of many children remains dependent on their social circumstances – an issue that must be addressed if the welfare of the poorest children is to improve. The Centre has started to collect an inventory of existing data and studies on the divergence in child welfare indicators from 1980 to 2000, analysing the underlying causes and offering suggestions to overcome such inequality. This work is expected to contribute to the end-decade review of progress towards the goals set at the World Summit for Children in 1990.