UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
UNICEF’s equity-based approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable children and families with cost-effective interventions for sustainable progress. Here is one in a series of stories that make the case for equity.
By Jeannette Francis
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 30 June 2011 – The children filed one by one to the front of the room, each grabbing hold of the microphone and, before a large audience, pausing thoughtfully before asking questions to the awaiting panel. “I have no parents and I live in a shelter,” said 13-year-old Mohammad Shajun. “There are many children like me. We want to know what the Government is doing to help us.”
VIDEO: 26 June 2011 - UNICEF reports on calls for more child-related allocations in the national budget of Bangladesh.
Watch in RealPlayer
Mukta Akhter, 12, was next. “I live in a slum, where the conditions are horrible. Will there be any money in the next budget that will go towards improving our living standards?” she asked. The panel – made up of government ministers, civil servants and child advocates – listened as the 23 children confidently expressed their thoughts about issues that mattered most to them.
The setting was a conference room in a Dhaka hotel for the launch of a report jointly authored by UNICEF Bangladesh and think-tank organization Centre for Policy Dialogue. The report – entitled ‘National Budget: Are the commitments to the children of Bangladesh being kept?’ – calls on the Government of Bangladesh to invest more in children, urging it to double child-related allocations in its Annual Development Plan.
At the launch (from left): Centre for Policy Development Executive Director Mustafizur Rahman; State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury; Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith; and UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Carel de Rooy unveil a UNICEF report on the national budget in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
After analysing the national budgets of the last five years, the report found that while the annual budget amount had increased, child-related allocations remained more or less the same. It also found direct child-related allocation was low, amounting to only 4.1 per cent of the total budget for the last financial year.
More resource allocation
In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF Bangladesh has long been advocating more resource allocation for children, not only to uphold child rights but to ensure a future that can sustain the country’s growing population.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Almost half of its 160 million inhabitants are children, of which 46 per cent live below the upper poverty line. With one of the fastest urbanisation rates in Asia, the disparity between the urban rich and poor is growing and it’s now estimated that seven million people live in urban slums, 3.3 million of them are children.
Mukta Ahkter, 12, asks a question about the Government's budget allocation for urban slum children during a national seminar on Child-Friendly Budget in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Despite improvements in health and education, two million children are acutely malnourished, school dropout rates are high and around 70 million people still have no access to improved sanitation. Child marriage and child labour also remain key issues.
“The most important asset that this country has is its 66 million children. If the potential of these children, particularly the roughly 20 million growing up in poverty, is not fully realized, they could become a burden for their country,” said UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Carel de Rooy at the event.
The report was launched in the presence of Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and the State Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, who acknowledged the need to assist those living in urban slums.
Children enjoy a performance by Jewel Aich, renowned magician and UNICEF child rights advocate, during the national seminar on Child-Friendly Budget in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“What I found most interesting about the report – and where we are not doing enough – was that pointed kind of attention to slum children. At the moment we are not doing enough for them and we should be giving special attention to their needs,” said Mr. Muhith. The report makes 10 specific recommendations to better deliver services to children. These include developing a ‘pro-child budget’ framework, increasing investment for children in a sustainable manner, increasing access to school for poor children, making special public budgetary allocations for children in urban slums, enhancing cooperation between government departments and encouraging strong political commitment.
Breaking cycle of poverty
For Mukta, the recommendations as well as the Finance Minister’s acknowledgment of dire slum conditions, gave a strong voice to the urban poor. She lives in a Dhaka slum where access to health, education and sanitation is very limited. She says the government needs to invest more in urban slum children. “Where there are people living in slums and where there are garbage mounds, there needs to be more investment so that the living conditions improve and people can better move around. That’s where money needs to go,” said Mukta.
As Bangladesh moves towards becoming a middle-income country, investing in the country’s 66 million children is crucial, not only to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, but also to achieving the Millennium Development Goals with equity.