Budget for Children: Presentation by Enakshi Ganguly

A very good afternoon to all. Let me begin by congratulating ACPF on the report on budgeting for children. As Dr. Salim said this morning in his recorded message- “there has to be a link between policy making, budget making and rights of the child” ACPF’s   report does just that.

Friends, it is my privilege to be invited by the African Child Policy Forum to this very important conference. For this I thank my dear friend Assefa Bequele, David Mugawe and all others at ACPF, particularly- Sarah, Yehualashet, Shimelis, Eskerdar and Asna . ACPF and HAQ: Centre for Child Rights have somewhat unknowingly and coincidentally been connected and yet we were not aware of it. When ACPF was documenting Legal Support Centres, they sent a consultant Frances Sheahan, to us. But there it ended. We had no direct communication with each other although we continued to do similar work in 2 continents, even though our scales were very different.

When HAQ organised its first international colloquium on Children and Governance last year, I chanced upon the African Child Friendly report, and with great difficulty was able to contact Assefa who attended the Colloquium and found us doing budget for children work, which led to my being here at the workshop last year at the inception of the project, which has led to the current report and to our undertaking a child friendly index report in India.

Coming to the subject of this Conference. When we begin any discussion on children and budgets we need to ask the question- why is it necessary to focus on children specifically?  After all are they not part of families or the larger society that benefits from allocations and expenditures? Do they not walk the same roads, drink the same water or breathe the same air for which government has invested resources? How can we dis-aggregate investments on children from the larger budget? But most importantly, how can we make out if we are putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to children.

Dr. Urban Johnson who presented his paper last year on the The Economic Significance of Investing in Children provided an answer very eloquently. He said that Children are one of the best examples of ‘invisibility’ in the field of economics. While Economists see children as consumers, producers/labourers and users of public services such as health and education, they seldom fully appreciate that children provide a great investment opportunity for high future returns and that their role in development ought to be recognized.

We felt the same. But not being economists or academicians, we were not able to put it as succinctly in economic language. We at HAQ: Centre for Child Rights said the same things, but far more naively. We believe, we need to invest in children NOW, not because “they are the future” as is often said, but because they are CITIZENS TODAY.

While working with and for children we noticed that promised interventions did not reach them, and their situations changed very little. When we went to the government officials to ask WHY? We were told—there is no money! Clearly there was some disconnect. What was it? That set us on our quest. The Finance Minister presents a budget every year, makes promises in the finance bill –what happens after that?

Why and where does the promised money get stuck? Why does it not reach the child it is meant for? We know these are economic questions, but more importantly, as has been reiterated here before, these are political questions.

There began our journey into what my father, Mr. S.P. Ganguly, who was a well respected bureaucrat and auditor describes as the “ocean of budget figures”. Commenting on HAQ’s latest report he said- most people only skim the surface of this ocean and hence the government often gets away. In a huge compliment to us, he said that being able to segregate and cull out and then place before the nation valid budget details is like placing a mirror to the government, and very few have been able to do that.

Our first effort was the decadal analysis of Budgets for children in 2001. The fact that the government of India had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and had even submitted its first report, for which the Committee had given its recommendations, provided us with additional ammunition to build on our argument.

This study enabled us to give a perspective on what the budgets had for children over a decade that saw economic liberalisation and structural readjustment in our country.

It also helped us to develop a methodology that has been over the years adopted by many others in the country, as well as the government of India, and indeed I am flattered and honoured to see that atleast the categorisation of the sectors that ACPF has adopted is the same as the one we use in our method.

I have been asked to focus on Asia today. An extensive internet search helped me find some efforts that have been made- in China in 2006, there was a study focusing on Education and Health Services for Children; Child-Focused Budget Study Assessing the Rights to Education of Children with Disabilities was undertaken in Vietnam in 2000. In Philippines as part of the Social Watch Initiative, the social sector budget is analysed regularly, and this also covers some of the children’s issues such as basic health, nutrition, maternal health, immunization and basic education.

In 2005, HAQ had been asked by Save the Children Sweden Denmark to provide technical support to undertake budget for children work in Bangladesh. However, that was never completed by them.

In 2009, Save once again attempted a Pre and Post analysis of National Budget 2009-10 from a Children’s Perspective in Bangladesh and in Pakistan in 2010. Both these coincided with the request to HAQ from Save- Sweden Denmark to prepare a toolkit for undertaking budget for children work in South Asia. This toolkit is now ready.

Most of these efforts made in Asia, apart from that made by us in India, have been one time studies, focusing on some sectors. We were not able to find any longitudinal and on- going budget for children initiative that focused on all sectors concerning children. This is a little different from how we have worked in HAQ. HAQ has made one specifically for India as well.

I will therefore concentrate on lessons and challenges drawn from HAQ’s experience of almost a decade, while drawing upon what I learnt from the others.

The first challenge is the methodology and its acceptance. Our experience shows that although we can draw from others, each country needs to develop its own. While there is bound to be some level of subjectivity in the selection of programmes that are directed at children from the plethora of interventions, our effort must be keep this subjectivity to the minimum and justify our choice.

Secondly while it may be more practical to concentrate on a sector, and any Internet search will show that most analyses concentrate on education, we feel it is very important to get the whole picture—after all we are talking of all rights for all children and all of it backed by resources. And that is what we do at HAQ, thereby attempting to calculate the share for children in the whole budget, even as we draw sectoral conclusions too. This is especially important because most government’s believe that if they have invested in education or at best health, they have done well by children. Analysts such as us also leave out budgets for Civil and Political Rights.

Third, while most budget analyses have concentrated on analyzing percentages that go to sectors, or examined them in proportion to GDP, we find this sometimes hides anomalies and discrepancies. For example, the proportion of health as a whole may have gone up making us rejoice, but what may go unnoticed is that the investment on an extremely preventable disease like diarhheoa that takes many lives in countries such as mine, has actually gone down. Similarly with education—simply looking at increases in the context of GDP may hide the lack of allocation for special categories of children such as the disabled or the tribals.

The devil, we feel lies in the detail—and so digging deeper and deeper, peeling off the layers—sector to major heads to minor heads etc.— is more effective. It was only in doing so that we were able to point out how there had been a fall in the allocations for street children in a budget bill or the fact that the increase in mid-day meals was at the other costs needed for ensuring elementary education, forcing the government to take corrective action. A consistent analysis of budgets highlighting the consistent low allocations for protecting children led to the government finally developing a new programme for integrated child protection.

Fourth, we find that it is more effective, and results in much greater impact, if we are able to make budget analysis a sustained endeavour and show longitudinal results—that way the governments too knows that we are here to stay and are watching, forcing them to be a little more transparent and accountable.

Fifth, it is important to track the entire budget cycle—the first allocation, the revised allocations that happen mid-year in most countries, and the final expenditure.

You will notice when government’s report of budgets or investments in children, they only report on allocations. This gives a false picture, as actual expenditure may be less than what was allocated. Tracking budgets through the three stages throws light on the planning process and the gaps therein.

Sixth I had pointed out earlier that most budget analysis initiatives concentrate on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. But without investment on the immediate civil and political rights, the progressive ESCR rights can never be realized. Hence, I would like to suggest that we concentrate on Civil and Political Rights.

Clearly we must be able to do what the government’s budget makers do and better.

Patience is the key. It took 7 years for the government to acknowledge and accept Budget for children and give it a status like Gender Budget. The Ministry of Women and Child adopted HAQ’s methodology and included a chapter in its annual report and also its National Plan of Action. But unless the Finance Ministry gives recognition, it is not real….

It was only when the Finance Minister announced it in his budget speech in 2007, and included a separate statement for children in the Expenditure Budget document, and when child budget was included in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, that we could be assured that it truly and properly was now a part of government’s agenda.

How does that change anything for children and their lives- one may ask? It is simply some more paper commitments.

I would say, for those of us who seek to hold government accountable, having a separate statement for children forces Government to be more transparent and accountable—they know someone somewhere will be looking at this statement of allocation and expenditure very very closely.

Also, we no longer have to go on a hunt —trying to disaggregate numbers from different ministries and departments. The Government has done that task for us. We simply must track it and use it.

Yet another interesting thing has happened.

Making a separate statement for children put the spotlight on them within the government itself and it suddenly realized how little it was doing. While we have been talking of mainstreaming of child rights, suddenly we find the government is actually trying it—even if it is to bolster its own numbers.

They are now themselves disaggregating investments in programmes for children from all ministries, including Post and Telegraphs by including some till now unnoticed scholarship scheme that they had for children of postmen… Clearly, in a very roundabout way, all ministries are now being forced to examine what it is doing for children…. isn’t that amazing?

Nothing may have changed in children’s lives as yet, but the lens of the government and also ours is widening, and that in itself is a step forward.

So advocating for a separate budget statement for children in government budget is an important strategy.

While CRC says that countries must invest maximum available resources, and also speaks about drawing upon international aid, we in India, particularly, at HAQ, feel that it is important for governments must dip into its own resources rather than be dependent on the changing priorities of external aid agencies.

There was a question this morning on investment from private agencies/ corporate. While their investment is welcome, it must not replace or displace government’s own investments, and we need to be careful that in the message of public private partnership is not one that allows for abdication of state responsibility. Also,this is something that needs to be closely monitored. Reiterating what Madame Aidoo said this morning, we need to be careful that the agency that is investing in children is not also leading to greater vulnerability and marginalization. Imagine a mining company that displaces families, and children, making them vulnerable to trafficking, simultaneously investing in running of a shelter for trafficked girls and women!

I will end with my favourite caveat. Budget analysis is a very important and effective tool for monitoring and accountability. But it cannot and must not be the only one. To be a real powerful tool, it must be complemented with legislative, executive and judicial monitoring –as we try to do at HAQ. The package my friends is a rocker!

But to be even more effective, we will need to take child rights beyond the realm of only those who work on children’s issues and work more closely with all other human rights movements—right to food, environment, health, agriculture, infrastructure and any one else who we can bring on board. After all, children are affected by all of these. For example, there is a conference on poverty in the next hall discussing planning and implementation, and some of us need to be there…

There has been a lot of discussion on children’s participation in budget for children work. I would like to add; while this is desirable it is not mandatory for beginning this work. If we have not engaged with children in doing our child budget work does not make our work less credible or valuable. So begin where you can. Our challenge is to demystify and make budget analysis simple…not simplistic.

As ACPF says in its handout to this meet- Budgets are the barometer of governments commitment to children. I add that the situation of children is the best dipstick to determine what ails society at large.

Last year in Adis the discussion was on the importance of empirical research forming the bedrock of advocacy, because good advocacy needs evidence- empirical and authentic. Budget analysis allows us to just that. Let us not make rhetoric of policy in the lives of the children we speak for. As I said before they are citizens today, and let us recognize them as political entities whose lives are affected by political decisions governments take. When India and China takes over large tracts of farming land in Ethiopia as I am informed is happening, children and their families will be forced to come to the streets of Adis. That is a result of a political decision. This is true of all our countries that we represent. Hence, let us not shy away from politicizing children’s issues. We did say budgets are bout politics

Lets go for it.

Thank you.