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By Independent Team & Agencies

Rwanda’s child policies praised in new Africa report

A new report launched Dec. 6 by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) has listed Rwanda among countries committed to investing in children.

The report measures African government’s investment in children and confirms that a country’s commitment to child rights and wellbeing is not dependent on their economic status, but rather on political will and spending priorities.

The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2011: Budgeting for Children reviewed the budget performance of 52 African governments between 2006-2008. It focused on spending in sectors that most directly impact on children.

Despite lower economic status than some of their neighbours, countries such as Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania scored highly in the Index, whilst conversely, a number of African governments with relatively high incomes including Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania and the Sudan, scored low

“The research clearly shows that the sheer wealth of a country does not determine the level of commitment to budgeting for children,” said Mugawe. “Rather, it is a case of political will being translated into action and prioritising children in national budgets.”

“Investment in early childhood development has been grossly ignored across the region, despite its very great significance,” said Honourable Jessica Alupo, Minister of State for Children in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Uganda.

In economic terms early childhood development is the first step in the process of human capital development and as a result should be viewed not merely as a vehicle for delivering badly needed social services, but also as an important element of economic development and strategy. Africa cannot continue to ignore this imperative.

Looking in more detail at the four key sectors affecting children in Africa, the Report analyses progress in budget spending, or lack of it, on health, education, early childhood development, and social protection. Whilst the last ten years have witnessed encouraging improvements in child health in many African countries with increased immunisation coverage, improved nutritional status and reductions in infant mortality, Africa still has a relatively low level of investment.

Most countries invested only between 4-6 percent of GDP in health in 2008, well below the commitment made at Abuja in 2001 to spend 15 percent of national budgets on health.

Eight years on, only four countries have reached that target: Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. And there are sharp contrasts. Whilst Liberia spent nearly 12 percent of its GDP on health and Rwanda increased health spending by nearly 19 percent, others, such as DRC, spent less than 2 percent and health budgets declined in Malawi and Swaziland, whilst others remained almost unchanged.

In education, whilst Africa has made impressive strides both at primary and secondary levels with encouraging results in reducing the gender gap, the region spends less than 3 percent of the world’s education resources, leaving a significant number of its children out of school.

But again, there are vast variations between countries. Lesotho, for example, had the highest expenditure on education (some 13 percent of its GDP), alongside five other countries who have met the Dakar Education for All target of allocating 9 percent of GDP to education by 2010 (Djibouti, Botswana, Swaziland, Tunisia and Kenya).

In contrast, some of the resource-endowed countries performed poorly, with Sudan and Equatorial Guinea spending just 0.3 percent and 1.4 percent of GDP respectively on education in 2008.

Although Early Childhood Development programmes have been shown to be cost effective in the long run and that their benefits surpass their costs, Africa’s investment in this sector has been almost entirely neglected with only 20 of 52 countries having such programmes in place in 2005, and only 15 percent of pre-primary school aged children having the opportunity to attend pre-primary schools.

The report found that the governments of Tanzania, Mozambique and Niger are the three most committed to budgeting for children, along with Gabon, Senegal, Tunisia, Seychelles, Algeria, Cape Verde and South Africa, who make up the category of best performers allocating the maximum of their available resources to children.?

At the opposite end, the low performers identified in the Performance Index for Budgeting for Children developed by ACPF include Sudan, Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone.

These countries scored low due to lower levels of investment in sectors benefiting children, the decline of these allocations over the years and relatively high military expenditure.

The Report by ACPF – a leading, independent, not-for-profit pan African centre for policy research and dialogue on the African child – was launched at the opening of the Fourth International Policy Conference on the African Child (IPC) taking place in Addis Ababa (7-8 December) in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa . The conference will examine the challenges facing children in Africa and the policy choices for governments.

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