Placing children at the heart of social accountability

How did a community monitoring initiative, combined with the use of ICTs, lead to improved monitoring of the education sector in the Philippines?

To what extent are children-led local councils holding municipal authorities accountable for allocations to priority social programs contributing to better outcomes for children in Brazil?

Can a post-conflict response be enhanced by engaging people in a citizen reporting campaign via mobile services?

What is U-report and how has it helped harness community information for monitoring the effectiveness of programs for children in Uganda? 

Schoolgirls from India sit in a classroom during a lesson.

Social accountability initiatives can lead to efficiency gains – and improvements in the lives of children.
© UNICEF/INDIA/2013/Vishwanathan

These are some of the pressing questions child rights experts, practitioners and activists will engage with when they meet in London this week. Convened by UNICEF [1], the meeting will examine ways in which social accountability initiatives can help advance the rights of children.

Why the focus on social accountability for children now?

Twenty five years ago the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) envisioned a world in which all children will survive and thrive, learn and grow, make their voices heard and reach their full potential.  That powerful vision has guided our efforts and led to remarkable achievements on so many fronts. Despite the progress, we must be reminded that our work is not yet completed. With glaring disparities and inequalities growing,  far too many children are left behind – think of the millions who are marginalized and excluded due to poverty, disability, gender, religion or ethnicity.

To a great extent, the world knows what it takes to reach them with proven, cost-effective health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and protection interventions. However, evidence shows that reaching the un-reached requires more than technical solutions. It takes a collective action to address the gaps, not least by engaging communities and especially children and young people in innovative ways to identify and solve problems in their own terms.

A mobile phone displaying a text message alert from U-report.

U-report Uganda is an innovative SMS-based platform that enables young people to participate in governance, and has 250,000 members.

Social accountability complements the more traditional forms of accountability, generally comprised of state coordinated judicial mechanisms and institutions. When applied at a local level, social accountability becomes an innovative and potentially powerful approach to engage people in the planning and monitoring of policies and services. Supported with various information and technology tools, social accountability mechanisms  empower people, both by providing the vital information regarding their rights and by increasing their voice with regard to public affairs.  The common initiatives involve a range of instruments, from citizen report and community score cards, citizen budget monitoring and expenditure tracking, to the use of media in raising awareness and pressuring the governments. Efficiency gains as a result of social accountability, in extending services to marginalised populations, have been shown to increase opportunities for children, and thus advance equity.

The meeting in London will put social accountability initiatives, particularly those that either benefit or engage children, under the close scrutiny of child rights, development experts and practitioners. Together, they will examine their potential to deliver innovative approaches toward achieving more equitable and sustainable results for children.

We look forward to their conclusions and recommendations as to how technical and proven solutions can be harnessed by the voice, demand and agency of communities.

Susana Sottoli is the Associate Director in the  Programme Division at UNICEF. Susana was previously UNICEF’s representative in Mexico for 5 years where she was responsible for the development and implementation of the Mexico Country Programme of Cooperation, and was also Senior Social Policy Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and The Caribbean. She holds a master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri and a doctoral degree in Political Sciences and Sociology from the University of Heidelberg. 

[1] “Rights in Principle and Accountable in Practice: Child Rights and Social Accountability in the Post-2015 World” UNICEF UK, London, 3-4 March 2014

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