Reporting on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) achievement has usually focused on national averages and whether countries are “on track” or “off track” to achieve the goals. The worse-off: women, poor people and those living in rural areas, are often mentioned. But systematic analysis of their data is rare. Similarly, government policies that succeeded in reducing disparities are rarely reviewed. This paper focuses on left behind groups, provides a systematic analysis of disparities affecting them, and provides examples of solutions used by governments in Asia and the Pacific.
Economic progress in many countries in Asia and the Pacific has been remarkable. Hundreds of millions of people have emerged from poverty. But economic inequality has also been increasing: the rich are getting richer far faster than the poor. Rural-urban differences are growing. About 95 per cent of the poorest fifth of the population live in rural areas.
The association between poverty and low MDG achievement is very strong: In almost every country with internationally comparable data, for almost every MDG indicator analyzed, poverty was the largest underlying cause of disparities in MDG achievement. Only one other underlying cause had a similar effect on MDG achievement: geography. In many countries, the difference between the best performing region and worst performing region was similar to the difference between the richest and poorest wealth quintiles. Geography and poverty are the two largest determinants of MDG achievement.
There are also differences between urban and rural areas, and boys and girls. Gender differences are comparatively small for infants (birth registration and immunization coverage are similar for boys and girls), but increase significantly with age. There are very large differences between men and women in labour force and parliamentary participation. Discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, HIV/AIDS status, physical and mental disabilities, and in some places caste, may be very significant, but little internationally comparable quantitative data is available.
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