|© UNICEF/ HQ97-0359/ Balague|
|UNICEF is working with governments and NGOs to address chronic malnutrition and hunger affecting children such as these in the village of Churitaca, Bolivia.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 24 January 2006 – Focusing on public policy to help fulfil children’s rights is an important part of UNICEF’s work everywhere. Today at UNICEF headquarters, a debate on public policy and results for children brought together Representatives from the Latin America and Caribbean region, programme and policy experts, communicators and others.
An increased focus on public policy in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region promises to bear fruit, helping countries achieve greater ownership over their own development and increasing the effectiveness of assistance. Experiences from the Region are applicable to other countries around the world where UNICEF works.
Promoting transparency and equitability
During the past 20 years, countries in the LAC region have shown increases in economic performance and wealth, as well as in key indicators related to children such as the under-5 mortality rate.
But the disparities between the well-off and the disadvantaged have also increased. The mortality rate for children in many disadvantaged communities has hardly improved. And despite economic growth in the region, the number of people under 18 who are living below the poverty level is increasing.
Ecuador is a case in point. “As in most of Latin America, the big challenge in Ecuador is poverty” says UNICEF Representative in Ecuador Paul Martin. “There isn’t money to pay for children to go to school or for their textbooks, or for their uniforms. There isn’t money for the family to pay for them to go to a doctor.
“But, poverty itself in a country like Ecuador also comes from exclusion. The poor are not equally distributed in the society. Indigenous children are much more poor, Afro-descendent children are much more poor – both on average and in absolute terms,” he says.
As part of its policy dialogue, UNICEF has been advocating for a more transparent and equitable public budget allocation to ensure basic services reach excluded and marginalized communities – which in Latin America are consistently Afro-descendents and indigenous populations.
Protecting the rights of excluded communities
Almost 60 percent of all children (18 and under) in Latin America and the Caribbean live below the poverty line. “The way public policies are structured are very important for reaching children and young people,” says UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg. “And the reality is that the ‘pro-poor’ type of policies we have had in place have not been reaching them.”
Why has this been the case? Mr. Kastberg explains: “Perhaps because they are not voters – perhaps governments have focused more on winning the votes of those who can vote and therefore (governments) tend to select public policies that reach certain interest groups. What UNICEF is trying to do is make sure that we have policies that reach children and young people.”
UNICEF has been encouraging an open and inclusive decision-making process, engaging civil society, the media, the private sector, academics and other national actors with national policy makers to help forge a consensus protecting the well-being of children.
Social investment improves the quality of basic services and contributes to the fulfilment of children’s rights. But promoting public policy in areas affected by socio-political turmoil remains a challenge.
Haiti is one such place. UNICEF Representative in Haiti Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral describes the organization’s work in this country: “Right now our priority is to have children who have been prevented from going to school because of ongoing violence return to school; to stop violence claiming the lives of women and children; to have everyone who is presently excluded from the system reintegrated into the educational, health, and water and sanitation systems.”
Tuesday’s debate contributes to consolidating UNICEF’s efforts in promoting effective public policy for children in Latin America and the Caribbean, and helps provide a basis to strengthen similar public policy initiatives in other regions.
Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story.