Children make up half the population of developing countries, yet they are among the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society. Children living in poverty are deprived of access to basic healthcare services, shelter, education, participation and protection.
Poverty is about more than the absence of money and possessions: it’s a cause and a consequence of the denial of rights. Poverty eradication requires a holistic, human rights based approach to development which places child rights and gender equality at its heart.
The Lisbon treaty recognises the promotion and protection of child rights as one of the EU’s principle objectives and, while the European commission has made strong commitments to this in the past, it’s time to reflect on this by allocating adequate funding in the next multiannual financial framework.
Despite tough economic times, the commission has proposed increasing the budget for EU external action from 5.7 to 6.8 per cent. This is welcome but is not, itself, sufficient to ensure the bloc meets its development objectives, particularly with regards to children.
For this to happen, child rights must be identified as a cross-cutting theme of EU development cooperation and a priority focus of both geographic and thematic programmes of the development cooperation instrument (DCI).
We know that investing in children, especially girls, is one of the most effective means of spending EU money. It is key to fostering long-term, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and this starts with equal access to quality education.
Our research shows that as many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school simply with basic reading skills – equivalent to a 12 per cent cut in global poverty. For a girl, each additional year of primary education increases her potential income by 15 per cent.
There have been some significant improvements in the number of children enrolled in school in recent years, thanks largely to EU funding, and the emphasis on education in the EU agenda for change is promising. However, 67 million children in developing countries are currently out of school.
Girls, who face double discrimination on account of their age and gender, face particular challenges in accessing quality education, such as early and forced marriage, sexual harassment and violence and child labour.
Both Plan and the Global Partnership for Education are working to change this, but enrolment alone is not enough. Quality education is about more than just getting kids into the classroom; it implies the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitude, behaviours and values essential for realising human rights and freedom.
Allocating 20 per cent of EU aid under the DCI to specifically support health and basic education is therefore essential. Once this is secured, we must know whether this target is being met. This means children and girls must be visible in the EU budget, allowing allocations to be traced and monitored. Without disaggregated data, it’s impossible to track how much of the EU’s spending reaches children or assess how successful the EU has been in terms of implementing its commitments.
The decisions the EU and its member states make in the coming weeks and months on future development policy and the money available to finance it will determine whether European leaders are serious about transforming promises into concrete results. We, and our partners in the south, are watching closely.
By Karen Schroh and Carol Bellamy
Karen Schroh is Head of Plan EU Office
Carol Bellamy is Chair of the Global Partnership for Education
This article was first published in the Parliament Magazine, Issue 348, 14 May 2012