We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

UNICEF Social Inclusion, Policy and Budgeting

Importance of investing in children

UNICEF Image: .
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0231/Estey

Investing financial resources to help children survive and develop to their full potential is, first and foremost, a moral imperative. But investing in children is also important on practical grounds. It yields positive benefits to economies and societies. Since the foundation of an individual’s health and well-being is laid in early childhood, the most opportune time to break the cycle of poverty, or prevent it from beginning, is during that time. Programmes that invest in early childhood development could generate considerable cost savings for government. Investments in children are increasingly seen as one of best and most valuable long-term investments we can make.  

The world can afford to address the most disturbing aspects of poverty through child-related interventions. Seven out of the top ten most productive investments in the updated Copenhagen Consensus initiative list directly relate to children. These investment initiatives include expanding micronutrients for children, increasing immunization coverage, lowering the price of schooling and removing education barriers for girls.  

UNICEF estimates that the resources needed for scaling up such interventions are moderate. For example, a relatively small amount of additional spending on immunization could save up to one million boys and girls. By investing a few thousand dollars more per child, we could also help him or her complete basic education by the age of 13.  

This combination of relatively low financial costs and high returns – in terms of human lives as well as economic productivity – makes a strong case for paying particular attention to children in economic policy and fiscal budgets in times of economic hardship, as well as in times of growth.    

Right in Principle and in Practice: A Review of the Social and Economic Returns to Investing in Children - UNICEF Social and Economic Policy Working Paper
At the most fundamental level, providing adequate investments that enable children to thrive is a moral imperative, and investing in a child is to invest in society’s future. Most would agree that there could be no more compelling argument than that. The international community has recognized that investing in children is not only essential, but an obligation as outlined under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Still, other arguments related to economic and social issues have also been made in search of an answer to the broad question: To what extent do investments in children’s survival and well-being also contribute to poverty reduction, income equality and economic growth? This paper provides a review of the literature on these relationships. It finds that investing in children can be extremely effective, and that the social and economic returns are potentially very large. Some of the evidence is based on investments that target the poorest and most vulnerable children and families. The paper also notes, however, that there are still considerable gaps in the literature, and that more needs to be done to effectively analyse the returns and the impact of investments within different contexts and environments.

Investing in Children - A brief review of the social and economic returns to investing in children
The principle of investing in children rarely evokes controversy. However we look at it, to investin a child is to invest in our common future: The world of tomorrow will inherit the children of today. Whether nations grow and prosper will depend heavily on the survival, health, education and protection of their citizens, particularly the youngest. There are several compelling reasons to invest in children.




Documents and publications

Country and regional highlights