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Sushmita S Preetha
There is a need for specific allocation for children in the national budget to facilitate adequate services for all children and establish their rights in a systematic manner, suggested policy experts.
Significant achievements have been made over the last few years in the field of child rights and welfare, with commendable success in increasing and sustaining net enrolment in primary schools, attaining gender parity in both primary and secondary school enrolment, reducing the post-neonatal and under-five mortality rates and providing vaccination coverage to children aged 12-23 months.
However, there are also major challenges towards establishing a child-friendly Bangladesh, as almost half of all children still live in poverty, denied of proper access to education, healthcare and legal services. Children from marginalised communities and children with disabilities are particularly left behind in most sectors. Child labour and trafficking and violence against children continue to put the lives of millions of children at risk in Bangladesh.
Children constitute almost 40 percent of the total population of Bangladesh, and yet, as of now, they do not feature separately in the national budget. Resources are allocated through different ministries, like Health, Education and Women’s and Children’s Affairs, but there is no overarching framework to establish exactly how much budget is currently being apportioned to children, suggest experts. Even within the individual ministries, there is no mechanism that allows for determining the exact amount being dedicated to children.
Dr Fahmida Khatun, Head of Research Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), argued, “There should be a dedicated budget with more, focus on children’s health, education and nutrition and particularly for the disadvantaged children, so that it goes directly to them.”
The CPD and UNICEF report, titled, “National Budget: Are the Commitments to the Children of Bangladesh Being Kept?” highlights that the share of allocations for child-focused programmes has not been changed significantly since FY 2005-06. The number of social safety net programmes and amount of money allocated in the budgets increased, but the amount and proportion of these resources are insufficient compared to the number of poor and most vulnerable children.
Former advisor to the caretaker government, Hossain Zillur Rahman, said that many critical issues, such as pre-school, child nutrition and children’s entertainment, are not in focus in the budget. As many as 70 to 80 percent of all disabled children could be potentially cured if they were given enough attention, he added.
Dr. Mustafa K. Mujeri, Director General of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said, “There is no comprehensive plan of action, and associated budgetary allocations, to translate the national child-related policies into effective, well-coordinated programmes.”
The National Child Policy of 2011 states that attempts will be made to allocate enough resources to children in the national budget. As of now, however, no tangible steps have been taken to translate the pledge into action. The national budgeting process needs to include a child friendly budgeting framework to address the social inequities faced by millions of children.
Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs (MoWCA), however, maintained that progress is being made in this regard. “We are working on this issue with the Finance Ministry and have proposed that a separate budget be allocated for children,” she told The Daily Star.
According to MoWCA estimates, 13 percent of the total ministry budget was spent on children-related programmes in the last fiscal year an amount that is not simply enough to address the complex range of issues affecting children in a holistic way.