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‘Recovery with a human face’ – the global financial crisis and child well-being

Written by Caroline Harper, Nicola Jones, Paola Pereznieto, David Walker

‘Working with ODI helped us to understand the impact of the crisis on children, and make children more visible in global debates’David Stewart, Chief, Social Policy and Evaluation, UNICEF Uganda

Twenty years after the seminal Adjustment with a Human Face report by UNICEF and the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and their rights are all too often ignored in high-level development debates. Responses to the 2009 global financial crisis did not break with this trend, with few countries focusing adequately on women and children.

Faced with a potential rise in child deaths, as seen in past crises, and other risks to children after years of hard-won advances, a number of UNICEF offices approached ODI’s Social Development programme for research and support on policy responses. In addition to its track record on women and children and on the global financial crisis, ODI had also carved out a niche in the under-researched area of child rights.

Evidence gathered on past economic crises by ODI, in partnership with UNICEF and the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, suggested likely increases in child illness, labour and exploitation and violence against children and women, and declines in school attendance, the quality of education and child nurture. The research found early evidence of children being removed from school in Egypt, Sudan and Yemen as a result of the present crisis.

The evidence confirmed the importance of policy choices for recovery, citing the recovery of South Korea and Indonesia from earlier crises, aided by social protection systems to cushion future shocks.

UNICEF’s response to the global financial crisis, Recovery with a Human Face, drew on a framework developed by ODI to determine the impact of an economic crisis on children. The first step was analysis of the macroeconomic environment, including aid flows and exchange rates, followed by examination of the intermediate effects of the crisis, such as reduced access to credit and rising unemployment. Next was a review of the main policy responses available to governments in a crisis: fiscal stimulus, social protection, aid policy and labour policy. The framework concluded with an analysis of the combined impact of policies on households, from consumption levels to their ability to nurture their children, in order to map out child vulnerabilities. The framework was accompanied by regional and thematic papers and a joint ODI/UNICEF international conference.

The papers have been widely circulated, and in some countries, such as Kazakhstan, their budget recommendations have gone before parliament. UNICEF is now mobilising its internal communications machine to mainstream the key messages into the work of more than 150 UNICEF offices across the globe, working to ensure that children are not overlooked in recovery efforts.