Investing in Children Key to Reducing Social and Economic Gaps in the Pacific
Suva, 24 September 2012 – Government representatives from 16 countries across East Asia and the Pacific met in Vietnam today to discuss how fiscal and social policies can halt growing disparities and sustain future growth in an uncertain global economic environment.
For the participating representatives from the Pacific Island Countries, the message is clear; investing in children is the key to reducing social and economic gaps.
Economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Critical social indicators have shown remarkable progress with a 68 per cent drop in child mortality since 1990 and the majority of children in the region getting a primary school education.
But this success masks starkly uneven progress with the prosperity of many hiding the deepening poverty of others. Millions of families in the region are being bypassed by both economic growth and progress on key social indicators. For the Pacific Islands, high exposure to commodity price fluctuations, geographic isolation, and high reliance on imported food and fuel, has constrained growth and poverty reduction.
Across the region many children still do not have access to essential social services like healthcare and education because they are poor, or live in rural or remote areas. Evidence from early-warning monitoring of vulnerable families in the Pacific, shows that food adequate food and nutrition is a growing concern. Some 70% of households surveyed reported having insufficient food budgets, particularly in urban areas.
Today’s meeting in Ha Noi was convened by UNICEF in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance in Viet Nam to strengthen coordination between key public finance and social policy makers in an effort to identify quality investments in children that will reduce existing disparities.
Examples from the Pacific are high on the agenda. Fiji’s experience in providing social assistance grants, free bus fare and food vouchers and the poverty relief fund for education will be presented as a means of protecting families, before and during crises.
For Filimone Waqabaca, Permanent Secretary for Fiji’sMinistry of Finance “pro-poor and pro-growth strategies are possible. Fiji’s new progressive tax system reduces or eliminates taxes for 99.4% of taxpayers, and a social responsibility levy will help to finance an expansion of the Food Voucher and Family Assistance Programmes to cover more families living in poverty.”
Vanuatu will be sharing its experience in mapping childhood deprivations as part of the Pacific’s first Child Poverty Study. The study found that 20% of children in Vanuatu experience at least one severe deprivation, with heath the most common deprivation experienced.
“These deprivations have lifetime consequences for children” notes Acting Director of Finance, Tony Sewen. “Vanuatu’s investment in the fee-free primary education through school grants has demonstrated that good policies can rapidly change the lives of children.”
For UNICEF’s Chief of Policy and Planning, Samantha Cocco-Klein, understanding how children experience poverty in the Pacific is an essential first step to addressing gaps. “The Pacific has made great strides in expanding the evidence available on the socio-economic situation of children. However, this evidence shows that there is more to be done. With global food prices a rising concern, limited growth in many Pacific Island countries and the constant set-backs caused by natural disasters, it is more critical than ever that investments in children and social safety nets are expanded.”
Harnessing and uniting the substantial knowledge and skills of public finance and social policy experts in ministries of Finance, Health, Education and Social Welfare will be the key to meeting this challenge.
For further information, please contact: