Jeroo Billimoria

ChildFinance: The next step in advancing children's rights

Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child gave children a voice and outlined their rights to survival, protection, development and participation, there remains a key set of rights for the child that has not been addressed: economic rights. These include the right to access education about money and resources, and the right to access to safe financial services.

As the world struggles to recover from the negative effects of the current financial crisis, what steps should child rights organizations take to ensure that every child benefits from basic economic rights?

I believe the answer - and the power - lies within the children themselves. They have the ability to change their lives and influence the lives of their families and communities. An organization's role is simply to create an environment that allows children to best express themselves and provides them with the freedom and resources to take change into their own hands.

Aflatoun has proven that this is achievable. Our social and financial education programme encourages more than half a million children, aged 6 to 18 years old, in 75 countries to recognize their rights, believe in themselves, save, plan, budget and even set up their own small-scale enterprises. Following 18 years of research, Aflatoun has demonstrated that children are able to understand basic financial concepts and enjoy saving and conducting their own microinitiatives. In addition to using several age-specific workbooks, teachers are trained in progressive, child-centred methodologies, and our curriculum focuses on art, games and theatre to make learning as enjoyable as it is effective.

Allowing children to develop sound financial knowledge and habits, and creating a safe environment in which they can put their financial skills into practice, will empower them at an age when they are open to this knowledge and experience. For adolescents in particular, greater financial know-how is necessary to building self-confidence and to making better, more responsible financial decisions. This increased capability, in turn, can help them avoid financial mismanagement, fraud and uncontrollable debt - frightening realities that can drive them deeper into poverty.

ChildFinance, an initative developed from the experiences of Aflatoun and other organizations working in the field of financial literacy for children, aims to create a direct link between children and financial systems. It does so by promoting increased social and financial education and the creation of a secure environment that supports children's access to safe financial products and services, such as savings accounts. The initiative is based on the idea that financially aware and empowered children can make a difference in their own lives and build a foundation toward becoming financially responsible citizens.

One of my favourite stories from Aflatoun is that of Savitrie, who was a bright young girl of 12 when we met in India. Savitrie told me that taking part in Aflatoun's informal savings programme had developed her self-confidence and taught her to how to save and budget her money. Rather than marrying at a young age, she chose to use her savings to continue her schooling. What she learned at school she taught to her siblings and her mother, encouraging them to save as well. I recently learned that Savitrie is training to be a teacher, hoping to pass on these same lessons to future generations.

Safe and accessible financial services for children should be a priority on national and international agendas. Programmes like Aflatoun's and initiatives like ChildFinance bring together a network of key partners from within the financial, governmental, academic and child's rights fields to push for increased economic rights for children worldwide.

I urge the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF and others in the child's rights community to ensure that the basic financial rights of children - the right to financial education and access to safe financial services. By providing and encouraging widespread social and financial education programmes allowing children access to savings systems, we can play our part in the greater movement. Through these endeavours, children like Savitrie can claim their basic rights and effect widespread positive change.

Jeroo Billimoria is the founder of Child Helpline International, Childline India Foundation, MelJol, the Credibility Alliance and Aflatoun. Building on Aflatoun's success in providing financial education, she asserts that ChildFinance is poised to promote financial literacy and create a network of safe financial services for 100 million children by 2020.

Panels

The global state of adolescents; the challenges they face in health, education, protection and participation; and the risks and vulnerabilities of this pivotal stage are looked at closely in a series of panels in the report, available as a PDF.

Essays

Adults and adolescents were invited to give their perspectives on the critical issues facing adolescents in the 21st century.