At a glance: United States of America

Global economic crisis is the focus of 'child-friendly budgets' forum in New York

© UNICEF Video
UNICEF's Associate Director of Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge Management, Isabel Ortiz, speaks at a session of the forum on child-friendly budgets, held at Fordham University in New York.

By Nina Martinek

NEW YORK, USA, 24 February 2010 – Last week in New York, UNICEF and Fordham University, with the support of the European Commission, hosted a two-day policy forum and workshop entitled, 'Child-Friendly Budgets for 2010 and Beyond'.

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The meeting brought together development practitioners, researchers and other experts from UNICEF, the UN Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and civil society groups such as the International Budget Project and HAQ Centre for Child Rights in India. Academics from Fordham University, New School University and New York University were also on hand.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss emerging empirical evidence on the impact of the global economic crisis and the key policy responses to protect children from harm – notably, those related to social budgets and public finance policy.

Toward an inclusive recovery

Held at Fordham's Lincoln Centre campus, the first day's session featured presentations on the impact of the economic crisis on children. The discussion aimed to define policy responses necessary to facilitate a more inclusive and social and economic recovery that benefits the poor. These responses would include adequate resources for the social sectors, as well as efforts to improve government accountability in order to improve public finance policy for children.

The second day's discussions, which took place in UNICEF's New York headquarters, focused on reviewing the methodologies and guidance coming out of UNICEF's work on development of a comprehensive Child Rights Toolkit. Through funding provided by the EC, this toolkit aims to help donors, government counterparts and development practitioners effectively identify and address child rights issues in development-cooperation and humanitarian situations.

The toolkit consists of nine components looking at the integration of child rights in the following areas: governance, legislative reform, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, National Development Plans, social budgeting, emergencies, impact assessment, child participation, working with civil society, and a child-rights resource handbook.

Children in crisis

All developing countries emerging from the global recession are faced with the challenge of providing a sustainable recovery that includes the most vulnerable members of the community – children, women and poor families.

© UNICEF Video
Audience members at the child-friendly budget forum at Fordham University.

UNICEF's Associate Director of Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge Management, Isabel Ortiz, addressed the multi-faceted challenges: "The problem we face is what happens with low-income economies. Are they having fiscal stimulus plans? What is the size of it and how much is invested in social protection or measures that directly cushion or buffer the impact of the crisis on households?"

In order to ensure that recovery includes and benefits children, women and poor families, Nora Lustig – Professor of Economics at Tulane University and a Visiting Fellow with the Centre for Global Development – noted through a video presentation that "socially responsible macroeconomics is needed" and that governments need to protect and maintain social spending to effectively channel resources to these most vulnerable groups.

Protecting social spending

In cooperation, governments face the challenge of making fiscal decisions that support economic recovery while also protecting social spending on essential health, education and human development programmes. If such programmes are not protected, the negative impact on the poor can be severe, as was illustrated by the financial crisis in Asia in 1997-98.

© UNICEF Video
Panel of speakers at 'Child-Friendly Budgets for 2010 and Beyond: Toward a Global Economic Recovery with a Human Face'.

Cielito Habito, PhD., Professor of Economics at Ateneo de Manila University, served as Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning in the Philippines from 1992 to 1998 and witnessed the direct effect of the Asian financial crisis on lower-income people.

"In terms of increased poverty, we observed and documented higher unemployment, increased school dropouts, increased hunger, malnutrition and sickness," he said.

Benefits of social spending

Prof. Habito's subsequent research showed that money spent on health and education positively affects poor families.

While there is still much progress needed, the Philippines is now focusing on the quantity and quality of social spending to more effectively deliver services and resources to households. A current programme in the Philippines grants money to children who go to school and visit health centres. By boosting the economy as well as improving social sector investments, Prof. Habito noted that "spending on the social sectors is in fact a win-win."

Such spending is even more critical now, as developing countries emerging from the unfolding global recession cope not only with limited fiscal resources, but also with natural disasters and volatile food prices. And children are most vulnerable to food insecurity, as any disruption to their nutrition can have serious long-term and irreversible affects on their health and development.

An analysis by the HAQ Centre for Child Rights revealed that despite three stimulus packages introduced in India in 2009-10, in response to the economic upheaval, there was not much evidence of significant resources being directed at programmes for children.

"It's a cumulative crisis that we're dealing with; it's not just these two years," said Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, founder and co-director of the HAQ Centre. "What it meant for children was that our education programme, our health programme, our integrated child development programmes, child labour – none of them benefited in a significant degree from the stimulus packages that were given."

Educational goals in jeopardy

Previous economic growth has allowed governments to spend more money on education; in fact, the number of children out of school fell by 33 million between 1999 and 2007. Now, because the economic climate will directly affect spending on education, educational goals are not expected to be met in sub-Saharan Africa.

"We estimated that last year and in this year, sub-Saharan governments' budget for education would be around $4 billion less as a result of the crisis," noted Samer Al-Samarrai, Senior Policy Analyst and co-author of the recently published Education for All Report of UNESCO.

Governments are either protecting budgets or increasing spending in the current economic climate, but the fiscal space in many low-income countries is very limited – and they tend to be the most limited in those countries that are furthest from achieving their education goals.

For many such low-income countries, aid will be critical. However, even aid is now under threat. Aid commitments had been rising, but the commitments are now, all too often, going unfulfilled. "There is a need for stronger prioritization in government budgets for pro-poor spending," concluded Mr. Al-Samarrai.

For further details, please visit the conference website.




19 February 2010: UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on the child-friendly budgets forum held in New York.
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