Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Child labour on the decrease: a reason for patting ourselves on the back?

by Keetie Roelen

 A report published by the ILO – Marking Progress against Child Labour - earlier this week has the welcome news that the incidence of child labour has dropped considerably; since 2000, child labour has decreased by one thirds from around 245 million to 168 million children. The majority of the decrease occurred in Asia and the Pacific and took place in the last four years.

The report identifies various policy choices underlying this positive trend, including education, legislation and social protection. Although it is recognised that general changes in child labour trends cannot be directly attributed to any of these policies individually, these are considered to have played an important and positive role. Social protection contributes to reducing poverty and improves families’ resilience to shocks, thereby preventing people from having to resort to coping strategies such as sending their child to work.

Is this encouraging news and the acknowledgement that social protection played its part reason for those working in or on social protection to pat themselves on the back? Maybe briefly, but certainly not for too hard and too long.

First of all, the problem of child labour is still massive. The ILO estimates that another 11 percent of the world’s child population are still involved in child labour, and that 85 million of those are engaged in hazardous work. Whilst the absolute number of children working is greatest in Asia and the Pacific, the incidence is largest in Africa with one in five children involved in some form of child labour. Maybe most worrying is that forms of hidden child labour, and particularly that of young girls working as domestic servants, are on the rise. Not only makes the hidden nature of such types of child labour difficult to account for them but also difficult to address.

Secondly, for all the good that social protection does in terms of reducing child labour, it also does harm. And this harm is not sufficiently recognised, presenting a danger to the progress in reducing child labour as social protection policies continue to expand in coverage and size.

Social protection programmes that deserve particular scrutiny when considering their impact on child labour are public works programmes – programmes that require people to work for cash or food. Evaluations of such programmes have shown that they can contribute to reduction of child labour, both in terms of incidence as well as the number of hours worked. The additional cash or food available in the household ensures that children no longer need to provide an additional source of income or labour. That said, there are some potential negative side effects that deserve due attention.

 Firstly, although public works programmes will officially not allow minors to work on their programmes, it is not uncommon to find children replacing their parents on the programme with supervisors not checking their age or not intervening. Secondly, public works programmes are also known to lead to a ‘substitution effect’, with children taking on their parents’ responsibilities on the family farm or in the house as one or both parents work on the programme. Not only can this increase the incidence of child labour, it often goes at the expense of other developmental activities of children, such as time spent at school, studying at home or playing.

 Although last decade’s reductions in child labour are to be applauded and are certainly cause for optimism, we should keep on our toes and remain critical about what policy choices have which kind of effect. This certainly holds with respect to social protection more generally; the rapidly expanding evidence base pointing towards positive effects of various programmes makes it appealing to base policy and programmatic decisions on assumptions about what works and what doesn’t. Praise should be given when and where it is due, but after that it is quickly time to do even better.

Monday, 16 September 2013

How to ‘Do’ Economic Development in Conflict-Affected Contexts (Hint: It’s about Politics)

By Patricia Justino

* This blog is a part of a collaborative series in partnership with Economists for Peace & Security and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The economic security of individuals and households is a major challenge for development interventions in conflict-affected countries. Once the conflict is over and humanitarian aid leaves, how do you feed people, secure livelihoods and improve markets and market access? An important finding from a major EU -funded research program on conflict analysis is that the answer to this question
is closely linked to processes of institutional change that take place during violent conflict.

Violent conflicts kill and destroy. However, conflict-affected countries are also characterized by intense institutional change that needs to be better understood. Institutional change takes place when different actors contest and sometimes win over former state institutions, transforming social, economic and political structures, organizations and norms.

Research conducted in the MICROCON project over the last six years has found that these institutional changes have profound impacts on the survival and security of ordinary people, and are central to explaining why armed conflicts persist, why they may mutate into different forms of violence and criminality, and why sometimes peace prevails. Furthermore, because they shape the distribution of political power, these forms of institutional transformation determine also how development processes succeed or fail in reducing poverty and promoting economic stability.

A common feature of conflict-affected countries is the breakdown of state functions, including its monopoly of violence and the ability to deliver public goods. The literature has described these processes as forms of ‘state collapse’ or ‘state failure.’ However, the collapse of state institutions in countries affected by conflict is not necessarily accompanied by the collapse of order and governance.

In reality, order tends to emerge in many contexts as different actors gain control over contested areas, and replace weak or absent state institutions. In many developing countries, these actors may include community members that form collective arrangements to access goods and security, or traditional authorities that take on state functions. In conflict areas, these actors are often linked to, or are themselves, armed groups (e.g. rebel groups, militias, gangs) that aim to control populations. Control is frequently—although not exclusively—achieved through violent means.

These local systems of order are an important mechanism in the transition of conflict-affected societies to stability because they affect how people live and survive, mediate the engagement of citizens with state institutions, and tend to persist beyond the end of the initial conflict, making them a key factor in how peace and development efforts will succeed in the long term.

However, the control of populations and the provision of public goods and security by non-state actors are typically viewed suspiciously by the international policy community, which associates the actions of these groups with illegitimacy, illegality and informality. The problem is that in contexts of violent conflict—even during the post-conflict phase—state structures are absent, do not work, or are illegitimate in the eyes of the populations they aim to rule.

New evidence suggests that non-state actors and the organizations they establish sometimes operate sophisticated structures of governance, promoting the rule of law in some form or other, and providing security, food and basic services. Despite the fact that these structures are often illegitimate or illegal, we should at the very least seek to understand them—and we need to do so in a systematic and rigorous way. This is important because these forms of institutional transformation shape the effectiveness of interventions in countries affected by violent conflict, including the establishment of elections, the enforcement of property rights, the reform of justice and security structures, and the improvement of systems of food distribution, employment and social service provision.

Development interventions cannot therefore be de-coupled from institutional and political processes that emerge during violent conflict and persist once the conflict is over. This implies acknowledging that actors beyond the state shape levels of economic, social and physical vulnerability of the very same populations targeted by development interventions. This is an issue where development policy still needs to make significant progress.

This blog was originally posted on United States Institute of Peace website on 13 August 2013