Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:46 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 12:46 pm, 17th September 2015

My Lords, I declare my interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and a patron of Christian Blind Mission, which is the largest disability NGO worldwide. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chidgey on securing this important debate. He spoke at the start of his contribution of the dangers of spurious targets. It is worth noting from the SDG outcomes document that:

“Targets are defined as aspirational and global, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. Each government will also decide how these aspirational global targets should be incorporated in international planning processes, policies and strategies”.

I ask the Minister for the Government to ensure that we can see that clear link throughout everything this country does to fulfil the SDGs in the future.

One strength that we have developed globally over the 15 years of the millennium development goals is much more collaboration within the Government as well as with other Governments and others. It is clear from the SDGs that we will have to improve even that good level of working. At the international level, UK implementation of the target will involve DfID, the

Ministry of Defence and the FCO; whereas some of the domestic implementation, particularly of goal 16.2 on violence against children, is likely to involve the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice. I therefore ask the Minister whether the Government are considering cross-departmental models for co-operation and development to ensure that, both domestically and internationally, our contributions are working at the most effective level possible.

In addition to interdepartmental and intra- departmental collaboration, we have moved into a world of multistakeholder global partnerships. Gone are the days when international development money was passed on to a Government to be targeted and delivered by them. The Government already use the private sector, civil society, faith-based organisations, philanthropists and other actors, who can connect and co-ordinate their efforts in pursuit of a common goal. A number of existing initiatives, such as Scaling Up Nutrition, Every Woman Every Child and A Promise Renewed have already demonstrated the importance and growing roles of partnerships in the delivery of international goals related to children. I ask the Minister whether the Government will continue to emphasise that these partnerships in delivering outcomes are vital and will play a central role in mobilising and sharing knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to make the SDGs a reality and go beyond just the traditional remit of government responsibilities.

We must celebrate the most successful parts of the millennium development goals. I also want to highlight some of the other headlines that we have heard in this debate. Between 2000 and 2012, the total number of out-of-school children worldwide declined from 100 million to 58 million, and child mortality has been almost halved. In 1990, 12 million children died before their fifth birthday. In 2012, that was down to 6.6 million, and it continues to reduce. That is a real statement of the success of the millennium development goals: 6.6 million children is still too high, but at least the numbers are now going in the right direction.

DfID needs to continue to promote child-related policies and programmes to further reduce child mortality and conclude this unfinished business. Can the Minister tell me whether there will be a real focus on ending violence against children, which has not been a major target in the past? It is vital that we reduce that inequality.

It is not just about violence against children elsewhere in the world. Violence against children here in the UK remains shocking. Statistics from the National Crime Agency show that, in 2013 alone, an estimated 602 children were trafficked into the UK. That is more than 10 children a week facing violence, exploitation and abuse. For far too long, the world has tolerated this epidemic of physical, sexual and emotional violence that leaves millions of children unsafe in their homes, schools and communities, including here in the UK. The inclusion of target 16.2, to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children, has to be welcome. It is a major step forward in addressing the protection of children worldwide.

I want to focus briefly on the coalition Government’s previous work to end female genital mutilation, sexual violence in conflict and online sexual child exploitation. Will the UK Government continue to make ending violence against children, particularly FGM and violence in conflict, one of their priorities when looking to implement the new SDG framework, both at home and abroad?

I congratulate the Prime Minister and the current Government on continuing the work of the coalition Government of aid in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. However, I have some concerns about the clear linking of the foreign policy of the Government with work in international development.

Dr Talaat Abdel-Malek, the former chair of the OECD DAC working party on aid effectiveness in the global development goals of 2014, wrote a very good article highlighting the factors undermining aid effectiveness, which include,

“the use of aid as a foreign policy tool; reluctance to untie aid; lack of transparency in aid allocation and management; lack of medium-term predictability of aid commitments … interventions in recipients’ use of aid funds”.

I have concerns relating to that last point. This Government have proposed very recently to support the 20,000 Syrian refugees who will be coming to this country over the next few years, which is absolutely vital. However, that money might come from the current DfID aid support in those refugee camps. That seems a somewhat short-sighted approach. I urge the Government to make sure that funding continues at the right level in the Syrian refugee camps.

Peter Salama, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and north Africa, has said:

“Every Syrian I spoke to has told me that they would have stayed in their own country if they were able to feel safe, live in peace, and be treated with dignity”.

Although 20,000 refugees coming into this country is a good start, it must be set in the context of more than 4 million Syrians, half of them children, having fled their country since the conflict started nearly five years ago. Turkey alone is now home to 2 million Syrians under temporary protection, more than three times the number at the beginning of 2014 and the highest number of Syrian refugees in any single country. In Lebanon, a country of fewer than 5 million people, 1.1 million Syrians are being accommodated, and Jordan is hosting well over 500,000 registered refugees.

Despite the enormous challenges facing those affected by the conflict, funding humanitarian assistance in those countries is not keeping pace with the needs. The one thing that this Government must not do is diminish the resources for those camps, when we could perfectly well provide that support from a UK budget.