Given the economic situation facing many countries, ensuring investments in children is not only a vital moral imperative, but also sound economic policy. Evidence consistently shows that where children and mothers have poor health, nutrition and education, they are likely to earn less, be less productive members of society and then pass this poverty on to their children. To prevent this crisis from having implications for generations to come, vital investments must continue to be a priority for those involved in the response.
Furthermore, many of the investments in children offer significant results with affordable interventions. For example, an additional $1 to $1.5 billion yearly spending on immunization could save one million young lives annually in the 72 poorest countries, according a WHO-UNICEF study;1 and the total additional yearly bill for bringing quality basic education to all the world’s children is estimated by UNICEF, the World Bank and UNESCO to be between $9 and $15 billion.2 In other words, we could not only save a young child from death, but also help him or her complete basic education by the age of 13 by investing altogether no more than $2,200 per child.3
By ensuring these types of budget priorities for children, national governments can avoid planting the seeds of poverty for future generations. Furthermore, evidence shows that even during a time of crisis, maintaining these investments are possible. In Ghana, primary school enrollment rose by 14 percent after fees were abolished as part of a broader program to dampen the economic effects of fuel price reform. In response to the Indonesian financial crisis of 1998, the government put in place scholarships for poor schoolchildren, allowing their families to maintain higher levels of public service use.4
However, in order for countries to maintain social spending, donor countries will need to support their efforts and maintain their commitments to development assistance. Evidence from past financial crises indicates that overseas development assistance may decrease as a result of tightening budgets. If governments are serious about their commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, they must continue to make children a priority in aid budgets. Investing in social protection can help break the ongoing cycle of poverty.
Short-term shocks may be creating long-lived and potentially inter-generational effects, pushing the household and the next generation into poverty. To help prevent this, and in the context of the food and fuel price shocks of 2008, a large number of countries responded by building on their existing social protection systems. Social protection, such as cash transfer programmes or education grants, can provide support to families when they face uncertainty and volatility, softening the blow of short-term shocks. Nevertheless, many countries have yet to build more robust systems. For example, only about one-third of low income and middle income countries have some form of cash transfer programme.5
1. World Health Organization. The cost of immunization programmes in the next 10 years; 2006 (pdf)
2. UNICEF. Finance Development: Invest in Children. A UNICEF policy review document from the Division of Policy and Planning; 2002. (pdf)
3. This assumes mid-range figures in the investments in basic education and immunization. This number was calculated assuming 100 million children out of school, eight years of basic schooling and using a combination of the above total additional cost amounts.
4. World Bank. Rising Food and Fuel Prices: Addressing the Risks to Future Generations. Human Development Network. Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network; 2008. (pdf)
5. Lustig, N. Thought for Food: The Challenge of Coping with Soaring Food Prices. Center for Global Development Working Paper 155; 2007. (pdf)
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