Institutional Frameworks and international cooperation play a crucial role in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16), which aims to promote peace, justice, and strong institutions for sustainable development. Alongside SDG 17, which focuses on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, SDG 16 provides a framework for international collaboration and the realization of the 2030 Agenda.
To ensure the financial framework and means of implementation necessary for sustainable development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda serves as a key instrument. Adopted during the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in 2015, this outcome document provides a roadmap for strengthening financial mechanisms and cooperation to support sustainable development initiatives. It has received endorsement from the General Assembly and plays a vital role in facilitating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Following the Rio+20 conference in 2012, the international community recognized the need to establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum dedicated to sustainable development. The “Future We Want” document, which emerged from the conference, paved the way for the creation of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development. This forum, which replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development, serves as the primary United Nations platform for addressing sustainable development challenges. It provides political leadership, guidance, and recommendations, monitors the implementation of sustainable development commitments and the 2030 Agenda, addresses emerging challenges, and promotes the integration of economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
A critical issue addressed by SDG 16 is violence against children, recognized as a grave violation of their rights. SDG 16.2 specifically targets the elimination of all forms of violence against children, aiming to create a world where every child can live free from fear, neglect, abuse, and exploitation. Additional SDG targets, such as 5.3 and 8.7, address specific forms of violence like child marriage, female genital mutilation, child labour, and the recruitment of child soldiers.
In 2006, the United Nations conducted a comprehensive study on violence against children, providing clear recommendations for action. To ensure effective follow-up, a Special Representative on Violence against Children was appointed by the Secretary-General. Despite the epidemic proportions of violence against children, it often remains hidden and socially condoned. It transcends cultural, class, educational, income, and ethnic boundaries, occurring within institutions, schools, online platforms, and even homes. Many victims, especially those lacking support systems, suffer in silence and isolation. Younger children are particularly vulnerable, and the impact of violence on their development can be irreversible. Factors like gender, disability, poverty, or national and ethnic origin contribute to the heightened risk of violence against children.
Peer-on-peer violence, including bullying, presents an additional concern. Studies indicate that between 25-50% of children have experienced bullying, with the rise of cyberbullying fueled by anonymity and its fast, widespread nature.
Violence against children has severe and long-lasting consequences, affecting their health, development, and educational performance. It also imposes significant economic costs, hindering sustainable development and undermining human capital. Estimates suggest that global costs related to violence against children reach as high as US$7 trillion annually.
Preventing violence against children requires concerted efforts, and progress has been made in recent years. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda has sparked the formation of new partnerships and alliances, the adoption of international standards for children’s protection from violence and exploitation, the implementation of comprehensive national policies on violence prevention and response, and the enactment of legislation safeguarding the rights of child victims. Awareness campaigns have shed light on the negative impacts of violence on child development and highlighted effective prevention strategies. Furthermore, global initiatives are tackling issues such as bullying, domestic violence, sexual violence, and harmful practices. Investments are being made to generate robust evidence on the scale and nature of violence against children and to monitor progress towards its elimination.
Progress and Challenges in Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
The journey towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) – Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions – faces significant challenges due to ongoing violent conflicts, rising homicides, armed conflicts, and issues related to safety and security worldwide. These obstacles hinder progress towards building peaceful and inclusive societies and pose threats to sustainable development. To meet the target of SDG 16 by 2030, urgent action is required to restore trust, strengthen institutions, and ensure justice for all.
One of the pressing issues undermining peace and stability is the prevalence of violent conflicts globally. Around one-quarter of humanity resides in conflict-affected areas, and the number of forcibly displaced individuals reached a staggering 100 million by May 2022, more than doubling over the past decade. These conflicts not only disrupt lives but also impede access to justice, basic services, and legal guarantees. Additionally, ineffective institutions and structural injustices further exacerbate inequalities and human rights challenges, pushing peaceful and inclusive societies further out of reach. It is imperative to address these issues and enhance the capacity of institutions to secure justice for all, fostering transitions towards sustainable development.
The alarming rise in homicides poses another obstacle to achieving SDG 16. In 2021, approximately 457,000 people fell victim to homicide globally, marking the highest number of victims in the last two decades. Factors such as the economic repercussions of COVID-related restrictions and escalating gang-related and socio-political violence contribute to this spike. Men and boys constitute approximately 80% of victims and 90% of suspects, underscoring the gendered nature of this issue.
Armed conflicts also continue to take a heavy toll on civilian lives. In 2022, the United Nations recorded a 53% increase in civilian killings compared to the previous year, marking the first increase since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. Ukraine alone accounted for four out of ten deaths. Notably, the proportion of deaths caused by heavy weapons and explosive munitions rose significantly, reaching 39% in 2022 compared to 13% in 2021.
Feelings of safety and security remain a concern, particularly for women. Survey data from 114 countries indicate that, on average, approximately 69% of the population report feeling safe or very safe when walking alone in their area after dark. However, women continue to feel significantly less safe than men, highlighting the need for gender-responsive approaches to address safety concerns.
Violence against children also persists, with a significant number experiencing psychological aggression and physical punishment at home. In 75 countries, 8 in 10 children aged 1-14 years faced some form of violence in the previous month, and in 70 of these countries, at least half of children regularly experience violent discipline.
Furthermore, human trafficking remains a grave issue, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of detected trafficking victims worldwide decreased in 2020 due to changing dynamics of exploitation and compromised anti-trafficking responses. Efforts to combat trafficking must be intensified to align with the actual prevalence of this crime.
Data on sexual violence against children are limited, with only a fraction of countries providing internationally comparable data. Prevalence rates vary across regions, with estimates ranging from 1% in Central and Southern Asia to 7% in Oceania among young women aged 18-29 years.
In terms of justice systems, the global prison population remained relatively stable between 2015 and 2021, with around 11.2 million individuals incarcerated worldwide. However, the percentage of unsentenced detainees remained high at approximately 30%, indicating a significant gap in ensuring equal access to justice for all.
Efforts to trace illicit firearms face challenges worldwide, with Member States successfully tracing only one-third of potentially traceable seized weapons between 2016 and 2021. Additionally, bribery requests from public officials to businesses continue to present ethical concerns, with approximately 15% of businesses globally facing such demands.
Budget credibility is another area of concern, with deviations from approved budgets increasing in some regions, compromising the effectiveness of financial planning and resource allocation for SDG implementation.
Representation of young people in parliament remains an issue, with underrepresentation observed in every region except Europe, highlighting the need for greater youth inclusion in decision-making processes.
Finally, birth registration and access to legal identity are essential for protecting children’s rights and ensuring universal access to justice and social services. However, around 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 worldwide have never been officially registered, and sub-Saharan Africa faces particularly low rates of birth registration.
To address these challenges and advance SDG 16, it is crucial to prioritize efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts, strengthen justice systems, combat violence, promote inclusive governance, enhance access to information, and protect the rights of vulnerable populations. By investing in these areas, we can pave the way for a more peaceful, just, and sustainable future for all.