When someone says that investing in children is important to ensure their rights are fulfilled, to reduce inequality and to build more democratic societies, politicians nod their heads in agreement without hesitation. However, to actually see such priorities reflected in public budgets is another story…
Despite feeling the impacts of the global crisis, most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have continued to increase social spending in general, and on children in particular. And not only have they increased the size of allocations dedicated to children, but they have also made concerted efforts to invest better.
Latin America has been a pioneer in measuring public investments in children. However, some countries in the region still don’t know how much of their public budgets are directed to persons under 18. If the old business adage that “only what is measured can be improved” is true, then quantifying child-focused spending is a necessary condition to monitor its evolution, determine its (in)adequacy and assess whether the lives of children are improving (or not).
In May 2015, representatives from 21 LAC countries congregated in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the importance of sufficient, timely and equitable investments in children and adolescents. The international seminar, Investing in Children in LAC: Toward more effective and equitable investment in children, was the third organized by UNICEF, following Bogota in 2013 and Lima in 2014. These recurring events focus on addressing the need to systematically and regularly measure public investments in children as well as strengthen the quality of spending. For example, whether public funds are used to paint schools or train teachers will have very different impacts on the lives of children.
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Advancing public policy takes time. This series of workshops has enabled participants to share and learn from the experiences of others in this arena, and have further helped clarify the definition of Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires State Parties to utilize “the maximum extent of their available resources” for the realization of child rights.
Today we can say that LAC countries acknowledge the ethical, economic and political arguments in favour of investing in children, but above all, that they act accordingly. From greater child-focused allocations in Ecuador and Peru, to a specific earmark for children in Mexico’s annual budget process, to routine measurement in Guatemala and Honduras, examples abound.
That is why we keep working on three fronts. First, to understand the efforts that States dedicate – through public budgets – to fulfil child rights in all societies across LAC. Second, to deepen analyses, especially in terms of the quality and effectiveness of spending, where measurement is regularly taking place. And finally, to showcase LAC experiences globally and fuel advocacy for more and better investments in children in all regions.
In terms of the latter, the Quito discussions are informing the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, a high-level event being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 13-16 July 2015, which aims to secure the financial resources required to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, the Government of Ecuador is hosting a side event to share LAC’s experience around funding child-focused programmes.
The forthcoming, new international development framework will only be as good as the underlying financing commitments. As a result, now is the time for Latin America to demonstrate to the world that measuring, monitoring and improving public investments in children is feasible and the cornerstone to fulfilling their rights.
Joaquín González-Alemán and Gerardo Escaroz are, respectively, Social Policy Regional Adviser and Specialist at the UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office.