Protect and Promote Key Social Sector Budget for ChildrenDhaka, 05 December 2012: UNICEF has urged the Government of Bangladesh to protect and promote key social sector budgets for nutrition, health, education and child protection regardless of the national and global economic environment to help realise the nation’s goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021.
Acknowledging the commitment of successive post-independence governments to address issues affecting children in its laws, policies and programmes, UNICEF called for a proportionate increase of budgetary allocation in the area of education, health and nutrition, which should not be lower than a minimum ceiling to sustain investments and gains of the past years.
The call was made at the launch of, “Children and Budget in Bangladesh”, a paper jointly prepared by Unnayan Shamannay and UNICEF Bangladesh. The paper identified that there has been reduction in the budget to key social sectors like education, health and nutrition as a per cent of the national budget.
“To make the vision of becoming a middle income country a reality, it is important to examine the national budget from a child’s perspective”, said UNICEF Bangladesh Representative, Pascal Villeneuve.
“It is obvious that most deprived children and their families represent the segment of society who are rarely involved, and least active, in the policy and budgetary decision-making process”, Villeneuve added.
The paper observes that like many countries, national and sectorial budget debates in Bangladesh are preoccupied by macroeconomic issues such as generating higher growth (GDP), controlling inflation, exchange rate regime, foreign reserves and debt. There is less dialogue on ensuring that the purpose of economic growth and macro-economic policies focuses on narrowing the equity gap through equity-focused policies, strategies and budget and through inclusive dialogue with the most deprived.
A focus on equity for children has long been a moral imperative: the Convention on the Rights of the Child is founded on the principles of universality, non-discrimination and accountability. Recent evidence shows that a refocus of efforts on an equity-based approach is not just right in principle, but also right in practice. Indeed, an equity-focused approach is especially cost-effective in low-income, high-mortality countries. In these settings, for every additional US$1 million invested this approach averts 60 per cent more deaths than the current path.
Implementing equity-based approaches require courage, determination and substantial effort. And like most things that are worthwhile, it will be challenging. But given current evidence and UNICEF’s own experience, it is a challenge that can be met.
According to the analysis, the education sector budget has long been one of the top priorities of the Government of Bangladesh. Education gets the second largest allocation after public administration ¯ with 11.16 per cent of the total budget in 2012-13, while public administration received 12.6 per cent. Despite a positive growth in the national budget, the share of the education sector budget as a percentage of the total budget is decreasing. The ratio, over the years of the education budget to GDP has remained static at around two per cent.
Budget in the health sector, especially for child health is critical in increasing effective coverage of life-saving interventions, reducing geographical and socio-economic disparity in health outcomes. Budget analysis shows that the national budget as a percentage of GDP has increased from 14.5 per cent in FY 2008-09 to 18.4 per cent in FY 2012-13. However, the health sector budget as a percentage of the national budget has decreased from 5.71 per cent in FY 2008-09 to 4.87 per cent in FY 2012-13 and has remained static at 0.9 per cent of GDP over the last three fiscal years from 2010-11 to 2012-13. This implies that the health sector is not receiving proportionate budgetary share while the overall economy has and continues to grow.
The paper highlighted that, “dedicated budget on child nutrition – assigned to promote direct nutrition interventions - is important in sustainably reducing the high prevalence of under-nutrition currently challenging Bangladesh’s push towards middle income status by 2021”.
The paper referred to a recent study (Hawlader et al., 2012) which indicates that the cost of providing effective nutrition services at scale in Bangladesh is BDT 90-120 billion for the period 2011-2021 (i.e., BDT 9 to 12 billion per year) from which the net benefit in terms of increased economic productivity would exceed BDT 700 billion by 2021. However, the Government of Bangladesh is currently spending much less in child nutrition as was revealed from the budgets of relevant ministries.
The paper makes nine specific recommendations to foster true partnership for mutual accountability for the rights of millions of children who are most socially-marginalized, including: annual equity and evidence-based budgeting for children in relevant sectors whose institutional mandates cover children’s socioeconomic rights. It also encourages the promotion of genuine partnership between development partners towards a nationally-led effort to support efficiency gains by instituting an evidence-led child sensitive, life cycle approach to social protection, beginning with the education sector with lessons taken to other Social Safety Net programmes.
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