Author: Lewin, E.
In its Mission Statement in 1996, UNICEF declared that its work be guided by the standards and principles established by the Convention and mandated the organization to advocate for the protection of children's rights and strive to establish them as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behavior. In 1998, UNICEF explicitly mandated its country offices to take a human rights-based approach to programming. By the mid-1990s, the Convention had become the conceptual framework for a new way of defining social policies in Latin America. Within UNICEF, Latin America, and perhaps Brazil in particular, has played a leading role in this process. As the experience in this new approach to programming had not yet been systematically assessed and documented, TACRO, in consultation with Headquarters, decided to engage an international consultant to undertake a study in the first quarter of 2000.
Purpose / Objective
The overall objective of the study is to further advance the understanding of the processes of change and the role UNICEF can play in countries where the Convention is being used as a programming framework. The specific objectives of the study are:
- to examine the changes that have taken place in terms of legislation and social policies in the three countries since the adoption of the Convention
- to understand the processes through which these changes have occurred
- to document the changes that have followed legislative reform in terms of public budgets, institutional capacity building, training of personnel and public education
- to assess the role that UNICEF at the HQ, regional and country levels has played in bringing about these changes
- to share the lessons learned with other countries, especially in the LAC Region
The study is based on a review of extensive documentation made available by TACRO, UNICEF country offices and national governments, institutions and NGOs, visits to the three countries, and numerous interviews with national counterparts and allies, as well as with UNICEF staff. Three countries were selected by TACRO on the grounds that the transition to a rights approach was well under way and could show tangible results. They were Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela. Besides having valuable experiences to share, there is an advantage that the three countries differ significantly in terms of territorial size, population, history, political, economic, social and cultural development and the roles of the State and civil society.
Key Findings and Conclusions
With Regard to Program Approaches
Using the events of the program cycle for advocacy--Opening up the main events of the program cycle to counterparts and allies has proven an effective strategy to turn this originally internal UNICEF procedure into a broader learning process. This helps create ownership, responsibility and commitment among national partners. Such an approach also promotes partnership, transparency and accountability. Using the official language of the country -rather than English - for documentation and reports will make the material much more accessible and useful for national partners.
Placing sensitive issues on the political agenda-- UNICEF is sometimes the only actor on the national scene that is in a position to place sensitive issues on the political agenda, and to build broad consensus and commitment. It is important that UNICEF make use of such opportunities whenever the moment is considered right. In fact, it is a moral obligation of UNICEF. Examples of such issues are: the sexual exploitation of children (governments may not wish to disturb the important tourist business); the eradication of child labor (this may meet with resistance from politically-influential sectors that depend on cheap child labor); and fair treatment of juveniles in conflict with the law (important segments of society may request tough treatment of "delinquents").
Horizontal cooperation-- It has proven an effective strategy to invite leading actors from one country to visit and exchange experience with professionals in other countries in the region to discover first-hand solutions that have been successful there.
Need to focus on adolescents-- While Brazil and Venezuela have active and well-organized children's movements, there are no significant youth movements in any of the three countries. Moreover, the debate on adolescents and areas of interest to this age group is virtually non-existent. More attention needs to be paid to this crucial age group.
Rights in service-- Child rights implies not only right of children and adolescents to services, but also that they be treated with respect "in service", i.e. when they are at school, in the community or meet the justice system. There are great deficiencies in this respect due to an authoritarian style of leadership and a degrading treatment of young people by adults. Therefore, leaders and staff of institutions working with children and adolescents need to be trained and have opportunities to discuss the new style of work characterized by dialogue and respect for the individual.
Limiting the legal jargon in UNICEF's vocabulary-- The excessive use of legal vocabulary when discussing the rights focus tends to create resistance among people with a non-legal background within and outside UNICEF. Effort should be made to explain the child rights focus with words that are familiar to professionals trained in the social sciences and to non-academic personnel.
With Regard to Interventions at the Local Level:
Decentralization to the municipal level-- It is in the community that children and adolescents should be attended to, because that is where they spend their lives. Decentralize decision-making and the development of community services that have been promoted by UNICEF for years. Since these concepts are now increasingly recognized and promoted by public authorities, it is an opportune moment for UNICEF to make continued efforts in this area. Just as at the national level, an intersectoral approach must be applied at the local level with full integration among all actors and programs. Decentralization and the creation of local systems imply a profound cultural change in most parts of Latin America where centralized systems of government have been the rule. Therefore, it will take time and patience to make them work.
Pilot projects--Local projects must have an institutional base, if they are to survive. If they subsist only with support of UNICEF, they are not replicable and sustainable. (This is an old truth, but needs to be repeated because there are still some examples of the latter kind.) The justification for UNICEF to support pilot projects is that of developing, testing and validating new models of intervention. These pilot projects are often successful - the challenge is to have them accepted as a model for expansion to larger areas, or even reproduced nationwide -and to have them work well without the intensive support usually granted to pilot projects.
Local Protection Systems--The local level is the most important part of a national system of protection, because this is where children and adolescents spend their lives and, consequently, where they need to be protected. Strengthening the role and responsibility of the municipalities in terms of social policies and encouraging the involvement of civil society in providing services and exercising social audit will enhance the protection of child rights.Child Rights Councils and Guardianship Councils have the best chance of success in municipalities where there is a progressive political party in power, a mayor who has understood the advantages of working with local councils and where civil society is well organized. Demonstrating the effectiveness of the councils is the most powerful tool of persuasion to other communities to set up such councils.
Linkages between the local level and national policies--Local projects serve the purpose of demonstrating innovative approaches and solutions to problems that exist on a national scale. For UNICEF, it is important to work at the two levels and to promote the linkages between local projects and national policies.
With Regard to the Relations with the Private Sector:
Mobilizing the private sector--It is abundantly clear that without development and peace, trade and investment cannot occur and business will not grow. In today's globalized world, economic power and social responsibility cannot be separated. With these statements, the Secretary-General proposed the Global Compact between the UN and the world business community in 1999. The Compact asks the international business community to advocate for a stronger UN. It asks individual businesses to protect human rights within their sphere of influence, support the abolition of child labor and to take other such steps that also make good business sense.UNICEF has the most extensive corporate involvement of any UN agency (37 countries). It is only natural that the organization so far has looked for partners in business mainly in industrialized countries. However, it may not necessarily be so. The experience in Brazil shows that it is possible to make strategic alliances with the private sector also in developing economies. It may be just because corporations and businesses in these countries live so close to the problems of children and youth and are affected by them, that they are prepared to commit themselves to social causes. A case in point is the Abrinq Foundation in Brazil.
Resource mobilization for the promotion of child rights--Influencing public policies is not as saleable as direct action, for example, traditional health and education programs. UNICEF has lost a market of direct contributions to NGOs that still carry out work of a more traditional kind. It is, therefore, important that UNICEF now develops the concepts, find the arguments and develop modalities to persuade the public to support its new program approach.
With Regard to the Media and the Distribution of Information:
Public media--Making alliances with the public media is crucial for UNICEF because they can be very positive and powerful tools for social mobilization. ANDI, Brazil, is a good example of a fruitful relationship.
Distribution of publications--It may be particularly effective to distribute reports and publications to areas outside the big cities. In rural areas and towns where the supply of information is limited, publications tend to be read more widely, and have greater impact than in the big cities with its information overflow.
With Regard to UNICEF's Management System:
The strategic planning system--For long term, process-oriented programs, UNICEF's strategic planning system may not be the most appropriate. The structure is too rigid for such programs where it is often not possible to establish time frames or define expected results ahead of time. Rather than a blueprint, the strategy is plan as you go and seize opportunities as they arise. Sometimes, the process comes to a halt and UNICEF has to wait. At other times, the process picks up and substantial input of funds and human resources are required with short notice. Another problem is that while the UNICEF planning system is devised on a one-year basis, these processes often stretch over several years and do not always show results in just a year's time. If the country offices are required to show results for such short time spans, there is a risk that they will hesitate to use a process-oriented approach and return to traditional program support.
Emergency assistance as a lever for structural change--An emergency program may provide unique opportunities to change obsolete structures in society and to create new and more equitable models of development. This is a window of opportunity that should not be missed. Venezuela, after the emergency situation caused by the inundation in December 1999, is a case in point. The problem is that in order to mobilize emergency from the international donor community at an early stage, UNICEF offices have to define what goods or services are needed. The support received in due course will then be tied to the delivery of the defined specific goods and services while, by this time, the priority needs may have shifted. It would be a great advantage if donors would agree to give general contributions, trusting the ability of the local UNICEF office to determine how to best use the funds. This way, emergency programs could be used as a lever for structural change.
With Regard to the Capacity of the Country Offices:
Capacity for analysis and reflection-- The transition to the new approach requires an enhanced ability to analyze and develop new concepts, and to adapt them to the political, economic, social and cultural reality of the country. The staff needs to have theoretical knowledge and practical ability and to combine the two. Documenting, systematizing and analyzing experiences, developing theoretical frameworks, constructing innovative models and unconventional solutions are all important parts of the work of the UNICEF staff. Time and space must be allowed for exercises that will promote learning at all levels of the organization.
In the years ahead the construction of citizenship for children inspired by the principles of the Convention is the fundamental objective of UNICEF and constitutes the basic framework within which the organization operates. Recommendations are made along the following lines:
- Ensure national commitment to the Convention
- Support progressive social policies
- Create awareness of rights and how to demand them
- Adapt the supply of services to the demand
- The empowerment of adolescents and children
- Strengthening the decentralization process
- Strengthening the system of rights guarantees
- Monitoring of child and adolescent rights
- Monitoring and evaluation; the need to identify new indicators
- Explain the rights approach to the donor community
- A longer-term guiding vision
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