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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

Putting children first in the policy response to the global economic downturn

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1493/Nesbitt
On a roadside in Mabvuku, a poor suburb of Harare, two children sold mangoes for 10 million Zimbabwe dollars each (then about US$1) in 2008. Hyperinflation had devastated the country's economy even before the onset of the global economic downturn.

LONDON, United Kingdom, 10 November 2009 – The global economic downturn has disproportionately affected millions of children and women who were already straining under the burden of extreme poverty.

For the past two days – amidst cautious hopes of a recovery – development practitioners, policy experts and academic researchers have gathered here to talk about putting children's basic needs first.

Their discussions have unfolded at a conference hosted jointly by UNICEF and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent UK think tank focused on humanitarian issues, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Impact of the slowdown

"The full impacts of the global slowdown on the poorest families and most vulnerable groups, including on the health and nutritional status of children, may yet be fully felt," said UNICEF Director of Policy and Practice Richard Morgan, whose remarks kicked off the London conference.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009/Stewart
At the London conference on the global economic downturn's impact on children and women (from left): UNICEF Director of Policy and Practice Richard Morgan; Diane Elson, University of Essex; Caroline Harper, Overseas Development Institute; and UNICEF Associate Director of Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge Management Isabel Ortiz.

While there are indications of emerging economic recovery in some areas, Mr. Morgan added, many effects of the downturn may only be starting to appear in developing countries. And some regions, such as eastern Europe, have fared much worse than others.

Given the continued economic uncertainty, Mr. Morgan said, it is "ever more urgent" for decision-makers to understand the effects of the slowdown on vulnerable groups – and the policy responses that can make a difference in children's lives.

New research and lessons learned

To communicate that urgency, UNICEF and its partners must demonstrate how volatile financial markets affect the most impoverished communities in general, and children in particular. Papers presented at the conference highlighted new research and lessons learned from past crises, all with an eye towards framing policy responses that protect children. Topics included:

  • Public budgets and child-sensitive social protection in sub-Saharan Africa
  • The link between disappearing remittances and access to health care among children and women in Mexico
  • Food and fuel price hikes and household food security in agrarian societies
  • The economic downturn's impact on girls' education in Nigeria
  • The effects of the downturn on children vulnerable to HIV and AIDS
  • International financial instability and child poverty in South Africa
  • And the impact of the downturn on family stability in the Republic of Moldova.

Also on the agenda – under the heading of lessons learned – was a panel discussion with the authors of 'Adjustment with a Human Face', UNICEF's seminal report about the adverse social impacts of international economic policy in the 1980s.

Child-centred policy

Besides the academics and other experts who presented papers and joined panel discussions, the UNICEF-ODI conference hosted government officials from both developing and industrialized nations. Also on hand were representatives of the private sector, partner agencies and international financial institutions and donors.

By convening people from different disciplines and sectors, the organizers hoped to jump-start the global dialogue on child-centred policy responses to the lagging world economy.

Time will tell where it leads, but that dialogue is well under way.



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