Public finance for children

When governments invest in children, entire countries benefit.

A girl learns and plays at a pre-primary school in Madagascar.
UNICEF/UN0281923/Ramasomanana

Too often, public resources don’t reach the children most in need. In some places, policymakers fail to allocate the funds necessary for children to grow and learn in a safe, healthy environment. In others, public finances may not be well managed, reducing the quality or accessibility of health care, education and other services.

Global evidence shows that public spending on children is a smart investment – for children, their communities and entire countries. When governments invest in children, health outcomes improve, incomes rise, economies grow and societies become more cohesive. Despite these benefits, public spending on health and education has stagnated in many parts of the world, and may be insufficient to meet the needs of children.

Challenges in public financial management make matters worse. Weak funding structures may delay teacher payments, resulting in teacher absenteeism and poor learning outcomes for students. In health care, inadequate costing can lead to a shortage of critical medicines, vaccines and other supplies. Management issues can also diminish hard-won gains, with consequences that ripple across society.

When deciding how to allocate funds effectively, governments must respond to children’s full range of needs. Public resources must be adequately directed to health, education, nutrition, protection and other areas to give children everything they need to fulfil their potential.

A mother in Cambodia holds her smiling infant.
UNICEF/UN0205295
Using data and analysis, UNICEF helped the Government of Cambodia increase the volume and effectiveness of public spending on nutrition-related programmes, and halve the prevalence of malnutrition among the poorest households in the district of Kratie, from 2014 to 2017.

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF works to tackle challenges in public financial management so that all children, especially the most vulnerable, get a fair chance in life. We partner with governments and financial decision makers to influence and support the mobilization, allocation and utilization of domestic public financial resources. Our efforts:

 

  • Ensure child-related policy commitments are better reflected in budget processes.
  • Identify cost-effective and equitable ways to deliver services and life-saving supplies, and help governments plan, cost and budget for them.
  • Improve the flow and use of budgeted resources for service delivery, including at the subnational level.

 

Our work is guided by the commitments countries made in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Sustainable Development Goals – which call for the better use of public funds – and our own strategic plan. Domestic resource mobilization, public expenditure tracking and reporting are also central the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.