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Investing in children and youth

There is growing evidence that interventions in the development of children have considerable long-term benefits for individuals and societies. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) recognizes this link between child- and youth-focused investments and growth by treating children and youth not just as passive recipients of social services and assistance but as active agents of inclusive development.

Outcomes for children

AAAA and SDG commitments to children and youth build on strong progress achieved during the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Children born today are significantly less likely to live in poverty than children born at the start of the new millennium. The under-five mortality rate has dropped by 53 per cent globally. Compared to the beginning of the millennium, the world average child underweight rate has decreased from 30 per cent to 15 per cent and the ratio of children finishing grade 5 has increased from 77 per cent to 93 per cent according to survey data (see UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Reports 2000 and 2015).

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Despite these improvements considerable challenges remain. Recent age-disaggregated estimates of global poverty trends by the World Bank and UNICEF reveal that, although children under 18 ‘only’ account for about a third of the global sample studied, they make up half of the estimated extreme poverty count (at the new $ 1.90 poverty line, data are for 2013). Younger children aged 0–14 are particularly affected. Assessments of multidimensional poverty among children and youth reveal similarly alarming results. In 30 sub-Saharan countries for which comparable data were available, 247 million (67.1 per cent) out of a total of 368 million children and youth under age 18 experienced two to five deprivations that threaten their survival and development. Considerable inequalities also remain in higher income countries. For example, according to surveys from 41 developed countries, relative differences in per capita incomes, self-reported health, and education widened between children at the income median and in the bottom 10 percentiles.

The cost of these deprivations for individuals and societies can be significant. Evidence from the latest Lancet series on early childhood development suggests that malnutrition, exposure to violence and toxic environments and lack of early childhood stimulation can result in a loss of about a quarter of average future adult income per year. Countries may forfeit up to two times their current gross domestic product expenditure in areas like health.

Furthermore, while the era of the MDGs saw important progress and gains in advancing the first decade of life in many regions, these gains have not necessarily and not sufficiently translated into improvements in the second decade of life for young people around the globe. Like children, young people aged 15-17 contribute disproportionally to the global poverty headcount, relative to their population share. Many adolescents and youth also continue to face tremendous obstacles with regards to the core life transitions from childhood to adulthood including challenges in the school to work transition, the transition to financial independence, lack of opportunities for meaningful civic and political participation, and challenges in the transition to marriage and family formation, including the lack of autonomy of millions of adolescent girls and young women to make informed decisions about when and whom to marry and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services.

Domestic resources

The effectiveness of the FfD monitoring process for child- and youth-focused investments under paras 7, 16, and 12 depends heavily on progress under the AAAA’s parallel commitments to improve the availability of age-disaggregated data (para 126). Under current reporting practices, most government budgets are organized by sector and functional area, but do not routinely report how much of public expenditure directly addresses the needs of children and youth (see below). Other new priority areas for children under the SDGs, like child protection, social protection, nutrition, youth and adolescents, or WASH, cut across multiple sectors or ministries and require separate reporting mechanisms for effective monitoring. More disaggregated budget information will also be needed to better understand how expenditure translate into results on the ground and to ensure that resources are well managed and reach the most disadvantaged children and youth.

International public finance

The large differences in domestic financing capacities illustrate the continued importance of ODA and international partnerships for countries with the greatest resource constraints. The urgency of these commitments becomes particularly clear when additional demographic factors are taken into account. At present trends most of the world’s children will soon live in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), with particularly high population shares in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF estimates Africa will be home to one in three of the world’s children by 2050.

Better data on child- and youth-focused spending

Good data are crucial for monitoring progress and for ensuring continued commitment around key AAAA and SDG priorities for children and youth. A country’s budget in particular reflects how well political commitments are being translated into direct actions to benefit the most excluded children and youth. Improvements in data quality and availability need to be complemented by better coordination and planning between ministries of finance and relevant line ministries and agencies to improve coherence and impacts on the ground.

Links to other areas of the AAAA

The magnitude of financing needs, and the large differences in financing capacities between countries underscore the importance of parallel commitments in several other areas of the AAAA. These include AAAA’s emphasis on social floors and basic services (para 12), improvements in the collection and use of domestic revenues and the tackling of resource losses due to illicit finance. Such reforms need to pay special attention to impacts on children and youth in disadvantaged families and circumstances, in alignment with commitments under para 7 of the AAAA, and to ensure that existing and new taxes do not have a disproportionate negative impact on children and poor families. Investments in children and youth can also be advanced by stronger recognition and accounting of large economic and social returns of relevant child- and youth-focused interventions within national investment plans.

The private sector and philanthropies provide additional large, and often untapped, resources for children and youth. The experience of the MDGs, especially under the health-related targets, has illustrated that involvement of the private sector can make the difference in developing new interventions for children and taking them to scale. Available data on charitable and philanthropic giving suggest that education, health, and other child-related areas are among the top priorities of private donors (e.g. in the U.S. 16 per cent of charitable donations in 2015 was in education, 12 per cent in human services, including family and child services, and 8 per cent in health). These positive experiences can be expanded and built on under relevant commitment areas of the AAAA, including by encouraging companies to embrace business models that take into account the rights of children and youth (37), investments in underfunded areas and countries (45), and philanthropic engagement that is transparent and accountable to children and youth (42).