Speakers at a roundtable stressed on increasing investment in children to build a more proactive generation. The investment should be commenced from the very beginning for children’s social, mental and cognitive development.
The speakers emphasised on proper plan and implementation mechanism to increase the budget for the children in the social security schemes. They also stressed on coordination between government and non-government bodies to reap the full benefit of the schemes.
UNICEF Bangladesh, Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Prothom Alo in cooperation with European Union organised the roundtable titled ‘Allocation on social safety for children in national budget’ in Prothom Alo's office in Karwan Bazar on Saturday.
CPD’s distinguished fellow professor Mustafizur Rahman presented the keynote paper on allocation for children in the social safety schemes in the national budget.
The keynote paper mentioned that the children had to bear the brunt of Covid directly as the income of the families was slashed at that time. The children suffered from a lack of food and nutrition and their education dealt with a massive blow. A total of 10,000 children lost their parents during Covid. A proper assessment of the loss incurred by the children has be to taken to recover from the loss. Otherwise, the country will suffer in the long run.
The keynote paper said that the government announed stimuli in 28 sectors during the Covid, but none of these was directly for the children. Only 19 out of 120 social safety net programmes of the government are directly for the children, which is only 8 per cent of the total allocation. Even if safety programmes which indirectly benefit the children are added, the percentage of allocation for children reaches only 16. The government in 2018 set a plan to increase the allocation in the national budget to 20 per cent by 2020 but only 15 per cent was allocated in the 2021-22 fiscal.
The keynote paper suggested prioritising children in medium term macroeconomic policy and medium term budget framework, forming separate government department for children, making the women and children related bodies in union parishads more effective, continuing midday meals for school children and undertaking of target-specified programmes for the children.
State minister for planning Dr Shamsul Alam said the children have to be prioritised in the social safety net programme. The government formulated the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) of Bangladesh eying to decrease discrimination in the society in 2015-2025. But the goal of the NSSS would not be fulfilled within 2025 due to hindrance in the Covid period. The timeline for implementation of the strategy might stretch up to 2028.
He said programmes such as the distribution of free textbooks for school children and incentives given during the Covid should be considered social protection schemes.
Pointing out different government initiatives on social security, the social welfare ministry’s additional secretary Sultana Sayeeda said primary education and assistance for mothers and children are big steps toward betterment of the children.
UNICEF Bangladesh country representative Sheldon Yett said, just when there was a ray of hope about recovering from the effects of Covid-19, the Ukraine war and the poor state of the global economy have again created uncertainty. To bounce back from Covid fallout, Bangladesh has provided cash assistance to the poor as part of social security schemes. Still, there was scope for the government to take more measures for the children who have been affected in various ways. The Ukraine war has reduced the purchasing power of families with children. If appropriate steps through social security projects are not undertaken, the children can fall victim to child marriage, child labour, malnutrition and drop out.
European Union Delegation to Bangladesh’s programme manager Ishrat Shabnam said it’s also important to look at how much priority is being given to investment for children. There is some discrepancy between the execution of projects for children. There is also a lack of information. It’s difficult to make effective plans if you can’t assess the situation using accurate information.
Associate editor of Prothom Alo Abdul Quayum said in the introductory address, that the economic hardship the families faced during the Covid period have impacted children in many ways. The government should’ve separately mentioned the allocation for children in its special incentives.
Bazlul Hoque Khondakar, the chairman of non-government research organisation South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), said the security initiatives will have to be formed according to children’s age. The inequality between the budget allocated for children and the wealth and resources of the country is huge.
Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) chairperson MA Razzaque said the number of social security initiatives is high but the allocation is comparatively low. He said social justice can’t be established with the current social security budget. The ones who should get the benefit, are not receiving it.
UNICEF Bangladesh social policy specialist Hasina Begum said that Mother and Child Benefit Programme need to be executed keeping age, geographical position and risk factors in mind. She said, mothers living in remote areas sometimes collect their allowance one year after pregnancy instead of three months. Because of this, the purposes of ensuring the mother’s nutrition, the nutrition of unborn children in the womb and the nutrition of infants are not getting fulfilled.
About the Mother and Child Benefit Programme, World Food Programme (WFP) programme officer Mamunur Rashid said that 98 per cent of this programme is allotted for allowance and only two per cent is used in the implementation.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) national project coordinator (child labour) Sayeda Munira Sultana said, due to Covid, the number of children involved in labour work has increased but they remain unaffected by the social protection programmes.
Save The Children, Bangladesh's advisor (investment in children) Zafar Sadique said, the children also need to be asked what they want. For further research, the information on expenditure needs to be available to all.
UNICEF Bangladesh social and economic analysis specialist Md Ashiq Iqbal and CPD programme associate Md Asiful Islam were also present at the event.
Prothom Alo’s assistant editor Firoz Chowdhury moderated the event.