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Inequality, Children’s Development and Post-2015 Debates

July 19, 2012

UNICEF, Young Lives and Save the Children organised a roundtable yesterday on ‘Inequality, Children’s Development and Post-2015 Debates’. During an afternoon session, representatives from research and policy presented their views on inequality and children’s development in terms of how far we’ve come since the MDGs and the future ahead.

Presentations by Young Lives provided interesting insights into changes in child wellbeing, inequality and children’s own aspirations since the start of this longitudinal study in 2002. Three round of quantitative and qualitative data are available from four countries (Vietnam, India, Peru and Ethiopia), providing a wealth of information and unprecedented opportunities for researching outcomes for children as well as the processes leading up to such outcomes. The presentation by Jo Boyden, based on the publication ‘Child Development and Economic Development: Lessons and Future Challenges’ indicated that economic growth in all four study countries has led to reductions in poverty but has also been accompanied by growing socio-economic disparities. These include disparities across different child outcomes (findings for Vietnam showed that while many more children have access to clean drinking water, access to hygienic sanitation is lacking behind), across social groups but also across stages of childhood with adolescent children facing starker disparities than those in infancy. Kirrily Pells presented interesting on-going research on children’s aspirations and perceptions and how those have changed over time. Qualitative research showed that improvements in well-being have caused shifts in aspirations (previously it was a girl’s ambition to go to school, now she worries about being employed and getting a job she likes) and that inequality negatively impacts children’s aspirations and hopes for the future. Also, the impact of inequality on children’s hopes or fears is not limited to poor children only; better-off children indicated that they have greater fears with respect to their security in relation to rising inequality.

A common theme across all presentations, including those by UNICEF and Naila Kabeer, was the importance of making sure that inequality gains high prominence in any post-2015 agenda. Disparities between children are large, whether that is between countries, within countries, between socio-economic groups and even within such socio-economic groups. An unresolved issue is not only how to make sure that inequality will feature in a post-2015 framework but also to make sure that it is done to the benefit of all children. A number of concerns were raised:

– Investment in children is often linked to the argument of human capital development and thereby economic growth. The point was raised that there is a real danger that this will lead to exclusion of certain children as not all children will be able to develop their ‘human capital’ to the same extent, and contribute differently to economic growth.

– A similar point relates to the lack of a ‘human face’ in linking the need to reduce inequality to economic growth arguments. ‘Development with a human face’ was coined in the mid-90s to counteract the Washington consensus and strong focus on structural adjustment programmes – it seems that we are back in a position where advocating for human rights and social justice as core principles is necessary.

– The only way in which inequality will make it high up on the post-2015 agenda is if there is a strong and common voice from those advocating for this cause. Although different interest groups may have their particular focus areas, there is a danger of sending a too convoluted message.

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