Supporting child rights: Synthesis of lessons learned in four countries
This evaluation was commissioned jointly by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) with the dual purpose of: (a) summarising results achieved in order to account for the efforts and resources invested by Norway and Sweden in development co-operation in support of child rights; and (b) contributing to continuous learning and development of policies, strategies and methods based on the lessons learned derived from the experiences of Norwegian aid authorities – including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Norad – and Sida, in promoting child rights. The findings from four country case studies – Guatemala, Kenya, Mozambique andSudan – underpin the conclusions and recommendations.
The evaluation was conducted by a core team comprising Arne Tostensen (team leader), Kate Halvorsen, Hugo Stokke, and Sven Trygged. In addition, each country case study was undertaken by country teams: Guatemala (Claudia Barrientos, Virgilio Álvarez Aragón and John McNeish); Kenya (Arne Tostensen and Jane Amiri); Mozambique (Kate Halvorsen,Minna Tuominen and Carmeliza Rosario); and Sudan (Liv Tønnessen and Samia al-Nagar). After an intial mapping of portfolios, field work was conducted during the period from May until August 2010. The Guatemalastudy was adversely affected by natural calamities such as a volcano eruption and a tropical storm that caused an emergency in the country.
Main findings and conclusions
- Interventions supporting child rights should reflect the four main principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): (i) non-discrimination; (ii) the right to life, survival and development; (iii) the right to express views and be heard; and (iv) the best interest of the child. A child rights perspective is integrated to the extent that interventions embody these principles.
- The principle of non-discrimination addresses in particular children whose rights require special measures. Interventions addressing the plight of Maya children in Guatemala, Maasai girls and deaf children in Kenya, trafficked children in Mozambique and girls subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan all protect these vulnerable groups from discrimination.
- The principle of the right to life, survival and development is covered by interventions advancing the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, psychological and social development in a holistic manner. Large parts of the aid portfolios do address development in this broad manner, especially in health and education. This principle is well covered by aid interventions in the four countries.
- With regard to the principle of the right to express views and be heard the results are not encouraging. Child participation has been more tokenistic than substantial. We have not found evidence of children’s influence in decision-making.
- The principle of the best interest of the child is essentially one of mainstreaming. Covering both public and private bodies, it cuts across all decisions and actions affecting children. Not only should this principle be heeded in all types of interventions, it should also be adhered to in advocacy, legislation, policy-making and all sorts of administrative decisions.
- With regard to effectiveness, we found considerable achievement of results in all four countries, albeit measured in terms of outputs rather than outcomes. What works and what does not depends on the policy and political context rather than the design of the aid interventions as such.
- Relevance is assessed both in terms of the normative standards of the CRC and the aid policies ofNorway and Sweden. Generally, the aid portfolios are aligned with both the CRC and the aid policies of Norway and Sweden. However, we found no evidence that the concluding observations of the CRC Committee are being used to guide the priorities of the aid programmes.
- In respect of sustainability, all four countries surveyed have ratified the CRC and are bound to take legislative, policy, administrative action to honour their legal obligations. The degree of commitment varies considerably across the four countries surveyed and their resource endowment makes external assistance necessary for the foreseeable future. In other words, sustainability is fragile.
- The evaluation paid considerable attention to the pros and cons of mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is very ambitious, requiring the entire organisation to be capable of implementing it, e.g. possessing the requisite knowledge and practical skills to infuse every intervention with a child rights perspective. Although Sida has to a limited extent been successful in mainstreaming child rights there is much scope for improvement. As a concept mainstreaming is sound but donors underestimate the resources required to make it work. The question is not whether mainstreaming is feasible but whether Sida is prepared to make available the necessary resources to implement it.
- The merits of targeted interventions are comparatively quick results while the main weaknesses are limited coverage, short duration and low sustainability. By contrast, mainstreaming is slower in producing results and more resource-demanding, though with better prospects of long-term sustainability. However, mainstreaming and targeting are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are complementary strategic prongs.
- A functioning and sustainable system for ensuring child rights can only be state-based. No matter how dedicated and diligent civil society organisations (CSOs) might be, they will never be able to replace the state and sustain a nationwide child protection system. This reasoning underpins a strong case for state-to-state cooperation. However, state-to-state cooperation tends to move slowly and be affected adversely by a volatile political environment. However, advocacy and watchdog functions can only be credibly performed by civil society organisations independent of the government, not least in monitoring the implementation of the CRC.
- As a multilateral agency, UNICEF – in conjunction with national governments – has played a major role in supporting child rights in many countries, not least in the building of institutional capacity. UNICEF has also provided significant policy inputs and a wealth of information on the situation of children.
- The avoidance of detailed earmarking and abstention from micro-management are features of Norwegian and Swedish assistance that are highly appreciated by civil society partners working in the child rights field. This posture reflects a measure of trust in the partners and affords them a degree of autonomy.
- We are concerned over UNICEF acting as a conduit for bilateral support to domestic CSOs. While this may have been motivated by a wish to cut administration costs at the embassy level, we doubt whether costs are really reduced in the aggregate. Furthermore, such an oversight function may constrain the autonomy of domestic CSOs and make civil society less pluralistic.
- We strongly recommend using the CRC, in particular the ‘Concluding Observations’ of the CRC Committee and other relevant sources of information, as an important source and guide for political dialogue as well as the programming of aid towards promoting child rights.
- We reiterate that all interventions for the benefit of children should be informed by the general principles of non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, the rights to express views and be heard; and the rights to life, survival and development.
- We recommend and reiterate that interventions should follow a rights-based approach whose core principles are participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and linkage to human rights norms. Efforts to put these principles into actual practice should be strengthened.
- We recommend that Norway adopt a mainstreaming prong complementary to targeting, similar to that ofSweden. Given the legal status of the CRC in Norwegian law, there is a very strong case for applying it to foreign policy and development cooperation in particular. General Comment no. 5 of the CRC treaty body further underscores mainstreaming as a requirement. This recommendation of principle is made notwithstanding the operational challenges it entails.
- In view of the fact that many interventions have not provided adequate space for the participation of children in all phases of the project cycle, we recommend that Norad/MFA and Sida give serious thought as to how children should become more involved in all project activities, from design to evaluation, and to utilise tools and methodologies developed for this purpose.
- Concerned about projects supporting institutionalised care of children in view of the clear CRC emphasis on family-based care, we recommend that institutionalised care be a measure of last resort when no other option is feasible.
- Also concerned about projects making services and benefits to children conditional upon religious service attendance, we recommend that careful thought be given to these issues so as not to contradict the children’s freedom of religion and worship.
- We are similarly concerned about projects involving child labour and recommend that – if child labour is unavoidable in certain circumstances –appropriate measures should be taken to avoid adverse affects on schooling and child health.
Recommendations regarding management
- We recommend that the aid authorities in Norway and Sweden consolidate the information pertaining to interventions into one comprehensive database and to devise an information system whereby documentation can be easily retrieved.
- We recommend that better policy compliance procedures be put in place between the head offices of the MFA/Norad/Sida and the embassies. Child rights are currently not given enough attention in field operations and this has to be rectified. Tools towards that end should be developed and applied.
Recommendation regarding the role of embassies
- We recommend and reiterate that both Norwegian and Swedish embassies should take an active interest in interacting with the governments concerned, both in following and engaging in child-related law and policy issues and in discussing with government counterparts how Norwegian and Swedish assistance could best be utilised in order to advance the rights of the child. This should be a component of the political dialogue. We also recommend dialogue with and support to human rights commissions and ombudspersons to the extent these institutions are engaged in promoting child rights.
- We recommend that exit strategies for interventions benefiting children, particularly vulnerable categories of children, be communicated well in advance and that decisions regarding the termination of funding always be considered from the viewpoint of the best interests of the child.
- For initiatives such as ‘Mainstreaming in Action’ in Kenya to have lasting effect, we recommend that they be repeated on a regular basis and replicated in other countries with a view to ensuring that child rights become a permanent feature of all programmes.
- We recommend that a proper balance be struck between the hardware (equipment, infrastructure) and the software (human resources) components of interventions as some projects have emphasised one component at the expense of the other;
- In situations of armed conflict and humanitarian crisis, child rights are at risk of being crowded out due the urgency of other matters of high priority. We recommend that in such circumstances, concern for the well-being of children be prioritised as children are often innocent victims of these adverse conditions.
- We recommend that Norad/MFA and Sida continue taking a long-term perspective in interventions in the field of child rights. This would allow for better planning and a degree of flexibility to respond to shifting circumstances.
- While observing a balance between autonomy and control, avoidance of detailed earmarking and abstention from micro-management are features of Norwegian and Swedish assistance that are highly appreciated by civil society partners. The same posture should be maintained in the future;
- The concept of sustainability may not be applicable to interventions that are advocatory in nature and we recommend that Norad/MFA and Sida take this into consideration when making funding decisions. Results of advocacy in terms of law and policy changes may be uncertain and take considerable time. Donor emphasis on producing quick results should not lead to advocacy activities being disadvantaged.
- Notwithstanding the importance of anchoring interventions in local communities to enhance sustainability, we warn against romanticising communities as always being supportive of child rights. It should be recalled that many harmful practices are deeply rooted in local cultures, e.g. FGM, early marriages and corporal punishment. We recommend, therefore, that even interventions that enjoy little support in local structures may be justified if they are in conformity with the CRC.
Recommendations regarding aid modalities
- As no conclusive evidence was found as to whether or not general budget support has had beneficial effects in terms of child rights promotion, we offer no clear recommendation on the utility of general budget support as a tool for promoting child rights, notwithstanding whatever other merits this mode of aid may have.
- Having noted that mainstreaming has not been a resounding operational success, we nonetheless recommend that it be retained with regard to Swedish aid (see corresponding recommendation number 20 above with regard toNorway), with the proviso that commensurate financial and human resources are made available.
- There is room for supporting targeted interventions by CSOs as these interventions fill gaps identified by the CRC Committee, the government and their aid counterparts. We recommend, therefore, that such support be continued;
- In addition to their role as service providers, CSOs have important watchdog and advocacy functions in lobbying for legislative and policy changes. Norway and Sweden should support such activities as well, which may be harder to assess in terms of tangible results, yet important in the long term.
- UNICEF plays a key role in advancing child rights and we recommend continued funding along the same lines as hitherto.
- It is not appropriate for a multilateral agency to act as a conduit and overseer of bilateral support to CSOs. We recommend, therefore, that Norway and Sweden desist from using UNICEF as a conduit for support to domestic CSOs.
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