The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the much-anticipated follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), will be formally adopted this weekend at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, where more than 150 world leaders are expected to attend. The SDGs include 17 goals and 169 targets which focus on tackling global issues such as ending poverty and hunger, ensuring education for all, achieving gender equality and combating climate change in all countries. The adoption of the goals means countries will commit to the full implementation of this new agenda by 2030.

War Child Canada and War Child USA are pleased that the SDGs include two targets which explicitly focus on child protection. These include ending all forms of violence against children (Target 16.2) and eliminating child labour, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers (Target 8.7).

However, we know all too well how challenging it is to secure adequate protection of children if conflict persists.

The MDGs, which expired this year, were touted by the UN as a success story, and achieved notable gains in decreasing poverty and increasing primary school enrolment, amongst others, worldwide. However, the 2015 MDG Report noted that, despite these successes, conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development.

We are currently experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. In 2014, the number of people displaced in the world reached 59 million. Somebody was displaced every 2 seconds. 50% of them were children. The reason we have reached this unwelcome landmark is a surge in violent conflict.

The United Nations has estimated that one billion children are living in war-affected countries. That is almost one sixth of the total world population. Of those, 300 million are under the age of five. Approximately a quarter of a million children are acting as child soldiers

While MDG Goal 2 saw an overall reduction in out-of-school children worldwide, for countries affected by conflict this number actually increased to 36 percent in 2012.  In 2013, 28.5 million children living in conflict areas were out of school. The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict noted in 2014 that children continue to be the most vulnerable to the impact of war.

In the SDGs, however, the issue of conflict is largely absent. It is mentioned only once, in the introduction, which states “countries in situations of conflict also need special attention.”

War Child Canada and War Child USA believe children affected by conflict require and deserve more than “special attention.” The success of the SDGs should be measured by their impact on the most vulnerable – many of which are living in or displaced from countries affected by conflict. The UN General Assembly and the Development Summit this weekend provides an opportunity for the international community to ensure reaching populations, especially children, in fragile and conflict-affected states becomes an urgent global priority.