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Children in times of economic crisis: Past lessons, future policies

Working papers

Written by Nicola Jones, Caroline Harper

How do economic shocks, in particular the current economic downturn, affect the wellbeing of children? What can be done to mitigate harm? This paper explores these questions, presents a framework for analysing the impact of shocks on children in different contexts and suggests initial policy implications.

Given experience from previous crises, all countries need to consider the impacts on children. Increases in child mortality and morbidity, child labour, child exploitation, violence against children and women and other forms of abuse, alongside declines in school attendance and the quality of education, nurture, care and emotional wellbeing, can all be traced to times of economic crisis.

Policy is critical to recovery: in part because of the policy choices adopted, South Korea and Indonesia both recovered quickly from the Asian financial crisis of the late 90s. Substantial national social protection systems were put in place to cushion populations from future economic shocks. These responses, plus a range of economic and social policy interventions (even if not that well targeted), helped protect many households from the worst impacts of the crisis, although coping was often hardest for poorer groups.

National governments, broadly speaking, have four clusters of policy choices available to them through which to tackle rising levels of poverty and vulnerability: fiscal stimulus, social protection and investment, labour and aid policies. In order to address the specific nature of child vulnerabilities, it is critical that the various policy instruments that governments and donors select from among these broad categories are approached through a gender- and child-sensitive lens.

The survival, protection and development of all children and their potential to lead quality lives ultimately depend on us prioritising their needs and ensuring that the environment can sustain their basic human rights as they grow to adulthood. Without tackling poverty and the environment concurrently, the future of all of today’s children hangs in the balance.

Caroline Harper, Nicola Jones, Andy McKay and Jessica Espey