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Child poverty, evidence and policyMainstreaming children in international development$

Nicola A. Jones

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781847424464

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847424464.001.0001

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Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

(p.124) (p.125) Five Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia
Child poverty, evidence and policy

Nicola Jones

Andy Sumner

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses the issue of children and the knowledge–policy interface in Asia. It briefly outlines the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being across Asia using the 3D well-being approach and reflects on the characteristics of the knowledge-generation process in this region. The chapter discusses opportunities and challenges involved in the knowledge–policy interface surrounding child well-being in Asia, paying particular attention to the significant decentralization trend many countries in the region have undergone and the implications for evidence-informed policy-influencing initiatives. It also focuses on a case study of evidence-informed policy change in the context of a citizen-monitoring initiative of child educational and nutritional services in rural Andhra Pradesh, India.

Keywords:   children, knowledge–policy interface, Asia, child well-being, 3D approach, knowledge-generation process, child educational services, Andhra Pradesh, India

5.1 Introduction

This chapter is about children and the knowledge–policy interface in Asia, and is structured as follows: Section 2 briefly outlines the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being across Asia using the 3D well-being approach and reflects on the characteristics of the knowledge-generation process in this region. Section 3 discusses opportunities and challenges involved in the knowledge–policy interface surrounding child well-being in Asia, paying particular attention to the significant decentralisation trend many countries in the region have undergone and the implications for evidence-informed policy-influencing initiatives. Section 4 focuses on a case study of evidence-informed policy change in the context of a citizen monitoring initiative of child educational and nutritional services in rural Andhra Pradesh, India.1 Finally, Section 5 concludes.

5.2 Children and 3D well-being in Asia

In this section we provide an overview of the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being in Asia across material, relational and subjective dimensions.

Material child well-being

To recap, the material dimension of child well-being concerns practical welfare and standards of living and the objectively observable outcomes that people – children and adults – are able to achieve. In terms of aspects of material well-being, a quick review of child nutrition, child education and child health using the MDGs as a barometer reveals a mixed picture in Asia.

The story these graphs tell is different in different parts of Asia (also see Table 5.1). Child MDG 1 (underweight children) is on track in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, not far of track in Western Asia, but significantly off track in Southern Asia. In contrast, MDG 2 (primary (p.126) (p.127)

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in AsiaChild poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Figure 5.1: MDG 1 - underweight children in Asia

Source: UNDESA (2009).

(p.128) (p.129)
Child poverty, knowledge and policy in AsiaChild poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Figure 5.2: MDG 2 – net primary enrolment in Asia

Source: UNDESA (2009).

(p.130) (p.131)
Child poverty, knowledge and policy in AsiaChild poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Figure 5.3: MDG 4 – under-five mortality in Asia

Source: UNDESA (2009).


Table 5.1: Children in Asia: selected material well-being indicators




2015 estimate on current trend

MDG target

Underweight children (%)

Eastern Asia





Southern Asia





South-eastern Asia





Western Asia





Net primary enrolment (%)

Eastern Asia





Southern Asia





South-eastern Asia





Western Asia





Under-five mortality (per 1, 000 live births)

Eastern Asia





Southern Asia





South-eastern Asia





Western Asia





Source: UNDESA (2009).

education) is on track in 100% of Southern Asia, but slightly off track in all other parts of Asia at 91–94%. MDG 4 (under-five mortality) is on track in Eastern and Western Asia and slightly off track in Southeastern Asia, but off track in Southern Asia.

The above picture has, as with Africa, been complicated by the Lancet review of MDG 4 under-five mortality data (You et al, 2009). You et al conclude that under-five mortality has declined by 38% in Asia since 1990, falling by almost half in East Asia and the Pacific. However, consistent with the UNDESA data, You et al note that considerable intra-regional differences exist between East Asia and South Asia.

Table 5.2: Asia: levels and trends in MDG 4 – under-five mortality, 1990–2008 (mortality rate per 1, 000 live births)





Decrease 1990–2008(%)

Average annual rate of reduction 1990–2008 (%)








South Asia







East Asia and the Pacific







Source: You et al (2009: 1–2).

(p.133) Relational child well-being

As with other developing-country regions, relational well-being data is difficult to find for Asia, but there are growing efforts to collect data. First, relational well-being indicators are evident in a crude sense in the MDG indicators that relate to children and inequality such as gender (in)equality in education, inequality in under-five mortality and maternal mortality. A brief overview of these suggests a mixed picture in Asia again.

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Figure 5.4: MDG 3 – gender equality in education in Asia

Source: UNDESA (2009).

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in AsiaChild poverty, knowledge and policy in Asia

Figure 5.5: MDG 5 – maternal mortality ratio in Asia

Source: UNDESA(2009).

(p.135) The story these graphs tell is also mixed (also see Table 5.3). MDG 3 (gender equality in education) is more positive with East Asia already achieving equality in education and South Asia on target for parity. However, MDG 5 (maternal mortality) is off track in much of Asia, with Eastern Asia being the exception. Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) estimates for 2015 in Asia range from 403 in Southern Asia to 20 in Eastern Asia.


Table 5.3: Children in Asia: selected relational well-being indicators




2015 estimate on current trend

MDG target

MDG 3 Gender equality in education (%)

East Asia & Pacific





South Asia





MDG 5 Maternal mortality (per 100, 000 live births)

Eastern Asia





Southern Asia





South-eastern Asia





Western Asia





Source: UNDESA (2009) and World Bank (2009).

As noted previously, Hogan et al (2010) recently re-estimated maternal mortality data in The Lancet. Similar cross-region trends are clear, with much greater progress on MMR overall evident by 2008.

Table 5.4: MMR per 100, 000 live births by Asia region





Asia, Central





Asia, East





Asia, South





Asia, South-east





Source: Hogan et al (2010).

If we consider data on the poorest children and the under-five mortality MDG in Asia (see Tables 5.5 and 5.6), we see that inequality plays an important role in relational well-being. In the countries with available

Table 5.5: Under-five mortality rates: average versus poorest quintiles in selected Asian countries

Average 2000–05(year)

Poorest 20% 2000–05(year)

Poorest as % of average

Bangladesh (2004)




Cambodia (2005)




Indonesia (2002–03)




Nepal (2001)




Vietnam (2002)




Source: Vandemoortele and Delamonica (2010) based on DHS.


Table 5.6: Under-five mortality rates: trend data of average versus poorest quintiles in selected Asian countries


Poorest 20%

1995–2000 (year)

2000–05 (year)

1995–2000 (year)

2000–05 (year)

Bangladesh (1996/97–2004)





Cambodia (2000–05)





Indonesia (1997–2002/03)





Nepal (1996–2001)






44 (1997)

31 (2002)

63 (1997)

53 (2002)

Source: Vandemoortele and Delamonica (2010), IDS Bulletin based on DHS.

data, the poorest quintiles are generally worse off and by a considerable extent.

Second, for a very limited set of countries, there are also a number of indicators from the MICS data set that relate to Asian children’s relational well-being. The indicators include birth registration; the prevalence of orphans and children with inadequate care; whether young women have comprehensive knowledge about HIV prevention and transmission; and rates of marriage for both young adolescents and all adolescents.2

Due to the fact that there are only three countries for which data are available, it is not possible to extrapolate regional trends. Birth registration is quite uncommon in Bangladesh and quite common in Mongolia and Vietnam. While few of the region’s children, unlike sub-Saharan Africa’s, are orphaned, nearly one in five Vietnamese children lacks adequate care. Furthermore, approximately only half of all women understand mother-to-child HIV transmission mechancisms, and rates for HIV prevention knowledge are even lower. Adolescent marriage is

Table 5.7: Selected Asian countries and relational well-being data in UNICEF MICS

Marriage before age 15 among women (%)

Marriage before age 18 among women (%)

Prevalence of orphans (%)

Children left with inadequate care (%)

Prevalence of FGM/Cutting (%)

Prevalence of vulnerable children (%)

Bangladesh (2006)







Mongolia (2005)







Vietnam (2006)








(p.138) very uncommon in Mongolia and very common in Bangladesh, where nearly three quarters of all girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Children and subjective well-being

To recap Chapter 1, the subjective dimension of child well-being concerns meanings that children and adults give to the goals they achieve and the processes in which they engage. Subjective well-being data on impoverished Asian children are almost non-existent. However, a trio of studies have each found that poverty contributes to children’s and teens’ sense of ill-being in one way or another (Harpham et al, 2005; Crivello et al, 2009; Halik and Webley, 2009). Halik and Webley found that as children age they gain increasingly complex understanding of the causality of poverty, seeing both structural and individual causes. However, there is evidence that despite their sophisticated thinking, they still feel the stigma associated with poverty deeply enough that they need to see others as ‘more poor’ than themselves. Harpham et al (2005) found that even young children feel great shame about being poor. For example, they report that having to borrow textbooks, tend animals and watch television at a neighbour’s house rather than at home is distressing. While these poverty indicators are familiar to us as adults, Crivello et al (2009), drawing on Young Lives data from India, found that poor children often have other, less obvious, ways of understanding poverty. They, for example, saw playing in drainage ditches and killing birds as indicators of child ill-being.

Table 5.8: Children in Asia: selected subjective well-being studies of children’s perceptions of poverty and well-being

Country and reference

Key findings

India, Vietnam, Peru and Ethiopia Crivello et al (2009).

This article reviews Young Lives’ work on developing child-focused, participatory, qualitative methods capturing what children understand about their own well-being and how that understanding changes over time. These methods, which included timelines and body mapping, allow research to move beyond simple quantitative measures of child poverty. They also showed that, despite the fact that family well-being was crucial to child well-being, children had unique perspectives that needed to stand on their own. Children, for example, wanted playtime, which adults rarely saw as important. They also wanted to focus on their education, which adults often saw as secondary to work. Furthermore, children simply saw the world through a different lens. For example, in India adults saw sickness and dirty appearance as two key indicators of child ill-being. Children, on the other hand, chose ‘plays in drainage ditch’ and ‘kills birds’ as their top indicators.

Vietnam Harpham et al (2005)

Using PPA methods with both children and adults, the study identified that the two groups had markedly different views about the nature of child poverty. Adults, for example, saw lack of access to clean water as a key distinguishing feature of poverty; children, on the other hand, mentioned shame, labour requirements, and a lack of assets such as toys or a television.

Malaysia Halik and Webley (2009)

This study of Malay teens found that older adolescents were likely to see a multifaceted causality of poverty that included both individualistic and structural causes. Rural teens were more likely to identify themselves as poor, while poor urban teens were more likely to conclude that there were others with worse conditions than their own. This may be to avoid stigma. Rural teens were more likely to be downcast about their poverty. All teens saw education as a way to ensure a more positive future.

(p.139) 5.3 Knowledge generation and child well-being in Asia

As with Africa, the generation of research-based knowledge on child poverty and well-being is a relatively new phenomenon in Asia. Wells (2009: 11), in her discussion of the history of childhood, notes that, ‘Presenting a coherent historiography of childhood for Asia is more difficult than for the Americas or Europe or Africa because of the extraordinary diversity of this region’, and only provides a brief discussion on understandings of child well-being and childhood in China. This limited knowledge base persists, as reflected in the limited number of institutions or research programmes focusing on child poverty and well-being in Asian contexts (see Table 5.9).3 Indeed, as Table 5.9 highlights, there are no pan-Asian initiatives to monitor and evaluate progress in children’s rights to well-being, and only a small number of organisations with a dedicated research focus on children (see the Philippines’ Psychological Support and Children’s Rights Resource Centre and Thailand’s National Institute on the Child and Family Development). The remaining institutions, predominantly based in South Asia, include a stream of work on children as part of their broader research portfolios. Their thematic foci include children and social justice, children and legal rights, child labour, children and emergencies, children’s education and health, and violence against children.

Given the high level of international aid to the South Asian region, and, to a lesser extent, South-east Asia, it seems this knowledge gap would be partially filled by donor agencies. However, as discussed in Chapter 4, donor investment in research related to child well-being is (p.140)

Table 5.9: Selected institutions with a research focus on child poverty and well-being in Asia


Home location

Affliations and partnerships

Thematic focus

Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD)

New Delhi, India


CORD is an independent research group seeking to articulate the problems of the disadvantaged through feld-based research. CORD endeavours to influence policy and public opinion by making its research findings accessible to the public. http://www.cordindia.com/

Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS)

Mumbai, India


TISS is a university that makes a decisive difference in achieving equity and justice in many spheres via research, teaching, hands-on work, and influencing people-centred policies. http://www.tiss.edu/

Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)

Delhi, India

The centre is one of India’s premier institutes of social sciences and humanities. It provides a unique institutional space that seeks to nurture intellectual interests outside the entrenched boundaries of academic disciplines, and currently has faculty serving on the board of the journal Childhood. http://www.csds.in/

Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN)

Kathmandu, Nepal

CWIN provides research, education, legal representation, and lobbying on areas involving children’s rights. CWIN’s main areas of concern are child labour, street children, child marriage, bonded labour, trafficking of children, children in conflict with laws and CSEC. www.cwin-nepal.org

Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre

Islamabad, Pakistan

RECOUP partner

The Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre is a policy research institute and think tank committed to organising professional research in the area of human development and promoting the human development paradigm as a powerful tool for informing people-centred development policy. http://www.mhhdc.org/html/objectives.htm

Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Centre (PST CRRC)

Quezon City, Philippines

PST CRRC’s focus is research for, about, and with children in the Philippines and South-east Asia. Its aim is to provide a better understanding of children and childhood through research on issues ranging from child labour to the impact of natural disasters on children. http://www.pstcrrc.org/

National Education Research and Evaluation Centre (NEREC)

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Childwatch partner

NEREC works to develop and disseminate knowledge to educators around Sri Lanka. http://www.cmb.ac.lk/academic/edu/nerec/objectives.htm

National Institute for the Child and Family Development

Bangkok, Thailand

Childwatch partner

The institute is a central academic organisation playing a key role in child and family research and teaching. It also gathers data related to child behaviour and development and provides advice and policy recommendations to government and social movement agencies. www.cf.mahidol.ac.th/

Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Family and Gender Studies

Hanoi, Vietnam

The institute is involved in research on education, child labour, violence against children, HIV/AIDS, and adolescent reproductive health. http://hurights.pbworks.com/ Vietnam+Centers#InstituteforFamilyand GenderStudiesIFGS

(p.141) generally limited. Partial exceptions include several large multi-year projects funded by DFID – the Young Lives project on childhood poverty which covers Andhra Pradesh State in India, and five provinces in Vietnam; the CHIP initiative on children and chronic poverty which carried out research in India and Mongolia; and CREATE, which includes partner institutions in Bangladesh and India.

On a more positive note, UNICEF and the World Bank are increasingly researching childhood poverty and well-being in Asia. UNICEF country and sub-regional offices in the region have partnered with a range of institutions (e.g. IDS, ODI and the Townsend Centre at the University of Bristol) to undertake research on, for instance, children and the economic crisis, children and social protection, and multidimensional poverty and deprivation. In addition, as discussed in Chapter 4, the UNICEF MICS and Global Childhood Poverty Study are generating important data and analysis on childhood poverty and well-being in the region, while the World Bank is supporting a range of impact evaluations on child-related services, especially education and nutrition programmes (Saroj, 2009) and mother and child health services (e.g. World Bank, 2005).

Finally, there is a growing, albeit fledgling, body of research into children’s participation, predominantly from South Asia and Vietnam (see Table 5.10). This work highlights the importance of children’s gendered experiences of poverty (Chakraborty 2009), the way in which age mediates children’s understandings of risk and care-seeking behaviour (Baker, 1996), the distinctive meanings children attach to poverty (e.g. while adults identified the absence of clean water as a key concern children focused on experiences of shame) (Harpham et al, 2005; Lolichen et al, 2006), and the value of employing interactive research methodologies (such as photography, daily diaries, mobility maps and drawings) to draw out children’s views (Sapkota and Sharma, 1996; Theis, 1996).

5.4 Knowledge–policy interactions in Asia

Asia is an exceedingly diverse continent, with particularly stark differences between South and East Asia. In the brief discussion of political context characteristics that follows, however, we focus on two dimensions that have some resonance across the region: a trend towards political and fiscal decentralisation with important implications for the knowledge–policy interface on child well-being, and the strong role of governments in knowledge-production processes.

(p.142) (p.143)

Table 5.10: Research about children involving children’s participation in Asia




Key findings

Ahsan (2009).

Children’s participation


This article argues that researchers must recognise the social dimensions of children’s participation in research. The author found that attempting to obtain children’s consent was difficult because in Bangladesh children are relatively powerless and thus unable to exercise their judgement without the influence of adults in their environments. Some teachers, for example, chose who would and would not be allowed to participate. One international NGO refused access to ‘its’ children, fearing government reprisals. The power dynamics that relegate girls to lower social positions made it even more difficult for them to participate; girls were particularly concerned about privacy issues.

Baker (1996)

Street children


This small study, which focused on the feasibility and methods of doing participatory research with children, collected qualitative and quantitative data on health issues faced by street children and how they responded to them. Older children and those living with their families were more likely to understand risks and seek appropriate care. Younger children, for example, do not appear to prioritise drinking clean water, using soap, or wearing shoes while rag picking in the same way that older adolescents do. They are also possibly less likely to seek care unless they are totally incapacitated.

Chakraborty (2009)

Participation and identity in Muslim girls


This study addresses what it means to young women living in the slums of Kolkata to be a ‘good Muslim girl’. Using photographs and focusing primarily on clothing, the study examines ways girls challenge what it means to be ‘good’. while the girls’ photos began with simple shots of home life and consumer goods, as mutual trust developed they moved to shots of themselves in Western clothing or at ‘bad’ locations, such as malls. The girls’ experiences were positive: it was a chance to escape the ‘daily grind’ of schoolwork and chores. The author points out that ‘fun’ should be a relevant outcome for academics.

Hastadewi (2009)

Child participation


This article focuses on a UNICEF study in Indonesia and the ‘12-step’ method that was used to involve children in research about child labour. Researchers found that information gathered from community sources about where to find child workers was often incorrect. They were told, for example, that many children made tempeh or worked in the fish market, but actually the tourist sector and farming were found to employ most of them. Body maps were a very useful tool; they enabled children to show which parts of their bodies had been injured at work. Adults were often inquisitive and wanted to be involved; researchers found that it was best to distract them by giving them separate activities. Another difficulty was the degree to which researchers came to be emotionally involved with the children, which was very stressful

Harpham et al (2005)

Child participation


Using PPA methods with both children and adults, the study identified that the two groups had markedly different views about the nature of child poverty. Adults, for example, saw lack of access to clean water as a key distinguishing feature of poverty; children, on the other hand, mentioned shame and lack of assets, such as toys or television.

Jabeen (2009)

Child participation


This article compares two studies with children in Pakistan one quantitative and one qualitative. The former, a study on missing children, lent itself to mapping the scope of the problem while the latter, on the experiences of street children, offered the children genuine voice. Particularly in Pakistan, where rigid hierarchies typically preclude children’s autonomy, qualitative research enabled the children to express their own beliefs, which they preferred to do verbally, as most had never been to school. Over time, as they learned to trust the researcher, they disclosed more than they would have under more typical research conditions, including their participation in sex work and drug use.

Lolichen et al (2006)

Child-led research


This field study highlighted the methods and findings of the Concerned for Working Children’s (CWC’s) participatory project with children in Kundapur Taluk, India. CWC left the project’s design and choice of tools, as well as data collection and interpretation, entirely in the hands of children. Over 300 children, the majority of whom were in school, participated in mapping what they perceived as community needs and ascertaining how to address them. For example, children who walked long distances to school during the rainy season often arrived at school muddy from the splashing of passing cars. Other children were concerned about an abandoned dry well, used as a dump, located near a playground. The repair of one bridge ranked high for children, who were forced to walk miles out of their way to school and for chores. The article concludes that the process of involving children is far more important than the product and can lead to genuine change.

Lolichen et al (2006)

Child-led research


This field study highlighted the methods and findings of the Concerned for Working Children’s (CWC’s) participatory project with children in Kundapur Taluk, India. CWC left the projects design and choice of tools, as well as data collection and interpretation, entirely in the hands of children. Over 300 children, the majority of whom were in school, participated in mapping what they perceived as community needs and ascertaining how to address them. For example, children who walked long distances to school during the rainy season often arrived at school muddy from the splashing of passing cars. Other children were concerned about an abandoned dry well, used as a dump, located near a playground. The repair of one bridge ranked high for children, who were forced to walk miles out of their way to school and for chores. The article concludes that the process of involving children is far more important than the product and can lead to genuine change.

Sapkota and Sharma (1996)

Children’s participation in research


This small study, which used drawings, diaries, mobility maps, and interviews, attempted to ascertain the usefulness of participatory methods for children. The key finding was that triangulation was vital to data collection: multiple modes of data collection increased reliability. For example, drawings showed what children did when they were not in school, mobility maps showed where they did it, and interviews allowed them to explain what was important.

Theis (1996)

Children’s participation in research


This article reviews the Save the Children Fund’s efforts in Vietnam to use participatory methods with children in an attempt to ascertain whether development projects were genuinely meeting their needs as social actors in their own right. Key findings included that it is far more important that the whole process be participatory than it is that each method be so, that choosing the correct facilitators is vital to encouraging childrens participation, and that intermediate media (such as drawings) often elicit better responses. One child, for example, refused to respond to questions, but happily filled out her daily schedule on paper.

(p.144) Decentralisation and implications for child well-being

The last two decades have seen a widespread trend towards decentralisation, with a range of innovative approaches undertaken throughout Asia to reform the role and nature of the state as an agent of development and to deepen democracy (Crook and Manor, 1998; Agrawal and Ribot, 1999; Gaventa, 2006; Mehrotra, 2006). As Westcott and Porter (2005: 1) note:

Across Asia pacific, and most marked in East Asia, one common feature of the policy and institutional package applied by governments keen to foster growth alongside poverty reduction has been to assign state powers, responsibilities and resources to sub-national authorities and to private and civil society agencies under various forms of contract, partnership or principal–agent relationship. Decentralization has become the catch-all term for what proves in practice to be a highly differentiated, and differently motivated, range of practices and institutional forms.

By creating institutional arrangements to strengthen the relationship between citizens and the state, decentralisation aims to combat the inefficiencies of centralised bureaucracies and promote policies and programmes that are informed by local knowledge and better reflect people’s real needs, especially the poor. In theory, decentralisation increases the capacity of the citizenry to impose sanctions on non-performing local authorities – especially in terms of public service delivery – through voting and recourse to higher-level authorities (Johnson, 2003). Evidence to date, however, suggests that decentralisation does not always generate positive outcomes for the poor (Ahmad et al, 2005). The multiple reasons for this include: entrenched patron–client relationships rather than rights-based citizenship; weak information systems and knowledge-sharing between national and local government institutions; lack of transparent decision-making and use of funds; low capacity levels among local functionaries; weak accountability mechanisms; minimal opportunities for meaningful civic participation in policy processes; and inadequate data for monitoring purposes (Bardhan, 2002). Analysts are increasingly realising that decentralised governance is not a quick fix, and in particular that promoting inclusive and effective participation in local-level decision-making is a complex and often long-term challenge (e.g. Crook and Sverrisson, 2001).

(p.145) In particular, initiatives to open policy spaces to promote greater participation in local institutions have shown that new institutional arrangements often replicate existing patterns of power and exclusion. An emphasis on the ideal of ‘community empowerment’ risks overlooking power differentials and oppressive social norms within groups (Cornwall, 2002; Williams, 2004) such as informal power structures and norms (e.g. gender and caste inequalities), which often determine who is able to attend meetings or to speak up, and even the type of issues that are raised (e.g. Goetz, 2004).6 Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that decentralisation alone is insuficient to mitigate inequality and social exclusion if it is not accompanied by deliberate, systematic initiatives to ensure that marginalised groups are able to access these new policy debate and decision-making spaces (e.g. Mukhopadhyay, 2005).

Issues of power relations are even more complex in the case of child-related service delivery, as children are largely excluded from the policy process and their voices are seldom heard in the Asian context (e.g. Theis, 1996). This is due to age-based notions of citizenship (informed by Confucian hierarchies in East Asia, for instance) and questions about children’s evolving capacities over the course of childhood and the appropriateness of their direct participation in the policy arena, particularly in the case of pre-adolescents (e.g. Ansell, 2005; Pham and Jones, 2005; also see discussion in Chapter 3).

In order to address these challenges, Lockheed’s (2006) work on education outlines four preconditions for effective decentralisation of child-related services: a national consensus on goals,7 a supporting legal framework, well-defined financial fow mechanisms and training to cope with new responsibilities at the sub-national level. In practice, however, despite appropriate policy frameworks being in place at the national level in much of Asia, the delivery of child-related services is too often fragmented and under-resourced. This is in large part due to the tendency for governmental children’s agencies to be among the most marginalised (Harper, 2004), and thus unable to secure sufficient funding for child-related services and programmes due to competing demands for scarce sub-national government resources. These resource challenges are often compounded by a dearth of specialised children’s agencies and issue champions, limited age-disaggregated data8 and/or parents’ lack of suficient knowledge and awareness to effectively champion child-sensitive service provision at the local government level (e.g. Akehurst and Cardona, 1994).9

(p.146) The state and knowledge intermediaries

A second important dynamic in the region is the growing prevalence of think tanks – institutions engaged in the business of evidence-informed policy influencing – in policy processes in the region (McGann with Johnson, 2005). Alongside generally substantial investments in the higher education sector,10 a recent analysis of the evolution of think tanks in developing-country contexts by Datta et al (2010) highlights the role the state has played in supporting the establishment of think tanks in many Asian countries. The first think tanks in the North-east and South-east Asian sub-regions were established by state bodies to inform development plans, promote economic growth and support public policy formulation, and have been complemented by the emergence of independent think tanks amid growing political liberalisation in much of the region since the 1990s (Stone and Denham, 2004). While the latter group produces research that is critical of the state to varying extents, many governments also continue to rely on research evidence from state- or party-affiliated think tanks. A not dissimilar trend has been seen in South Asia. For example, since independence in 1947, India has had a think tank tradition in which successive governments have invested substantially in think tanks and have largely tolerated their critiques of public policy. However, the weakening of the dominant Congress party, an increasingly partisan political culture, the rising influence of IFIs and popular mobilisations around human rights have created space for further growth of non-governmental think tanks. Established government-funded think tanks, which tend to provide national and state governments with most, if not all, of the policymaking evidence they require, are diversifying their funding sources to include foreign and private-sector donors, while relatively new think tanks are almost totally dependent on foreign funding. These foreign-funded think tanks often channel their research through influential academics and activist/advocacy-oriented NGOs. In short, there is a reasonable degree of openness towards evidence-informed policy dialogue in the region, albeit with the government playing a relatively strong role in producing and filtering the knowledge that is taken up.

In terms of knowledge intermediaries focusing on child well-being, the feld is more limited, as Table 5.11 illustrates, with only a small number of communities of practice concerned with child well-being, especially at the regional level, but also at the national and sub-national levels. Partial exceptions include communities focused on the prevention of child trafficking and sexual exploitation and the eradication of child labour (see, for example, Asia Against Child Trafficking [AACT], End (p.147) (p.148) (p.149) (p.150) (p.151)

Table 5.11: Selected communities of practice on child well-being in Asia


Time frame


Type of policy impact

Regional focus

Asia Against Child Trafficking (AACT) http://www.cridoc.net/asia_acts.php http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/philippines/resources


Part of the International Campaign against Child Trafficking, AACT works as a regional campaign to fight child trafficking in Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

AACT lobbies governments and authorities to implement human rights standards for trafficked children (through national legislation, the creation of regional protection mechanisms, cooperation, support for victims, and prosecution of offenders).

Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEASUCS) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Southeast-Asia-Coalitionto-Stop-the-Use-of-Child-Soldiers/100393233757?v=info


SEASUCS is a network of national and regional human rights and child-focused organisations working in Burma, Indonesia, and the Philippines. SEASUCS advocates for the protection of children involved in armed conflicts in the South-east Asian region.

SEASUCS advocates for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPCRC-AC), raises awareness, and promotes respect for children’s rights by conducting peace and human rights education among non-state armed groups and civil society; develops capacities of partner organisations in advocating for the implementation of programmes for children involved in armed conflict; and monitors compliance by governments and non-state armed groups.

Campaign Against Sex Selective Abortion (CASSA) http://cassa.in/index.html


CASSA is a campaign consisting of social action groups, women’s organisations, human rights groups, advocates, educators, research institutions and professionals working to stop the misuse of sex-selection technologies.

The campaign carries out educational programmes for healthcare professionals, NGOs, and adolescents. It also monitors and reports violations.

National focus

End Child Prostitution Abuse and Trafficking (ECPAT) in Cambodia http://www.ecpatcambodia.org/index.php?menuid=2


ECPAT Cambodia is a network of 26 national and international organisations and institutions working to combat CSEC. It mobilises key stakeholders and promotes coordinated action for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking in children for sexual purposes.

The group’s activities include: conducting CST workshops training tourism industry personnel to prevent child abuse in tourist destinations; capacity-building workshops on care and protection for coalition members who provide direct services to victims; and the production of awareness-raising and informational materials on trafficking of children for sexual purposes. ECPAT Cambodia works closely with a variety of Cambodian government ministries.

Network Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Andhra Pradesh (NATSAP) http://traffickinginap.com/profile.html#


NATSAP is a coalition of 50 NGOs working in Andhra Pradesh, India, to prevent trafficking and exploitation of children and women.

NATSAP undertakes research on the issue of child trafficking. It serves on governmental committees in Andhra Pradesh and serves as a unified force in lobbying efforts to end the practice.

India Alliance for Child Rights (IACR)


The IACR represents a countrywide alliance of networks, NGOs, think tanks, activists, academia, and concerned individuals working for the realisation of the rights of children.

The IACR lobbies governments and the UN and monitors the UNCRC. It produces supplementary shadow reports on India’s progress vis-à-vis the UNCRC.

Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL)


A network of over 6, 000 anti-child labour groups spread over 21 states in India, the CACL is committed to eradicating child labour through building public opinion, investigating abuse, advocacy, and monitoring national and international development plans. It undertakes research on child rights and legal casework on behalf of children and works with the media and press. In 2000 it published An Alternate Report on the Status of Child Labour In India.

The CACL lobbies state and national governments and the UN to improve the realisation of children’s rights and to eradicate child labour.

National Alliance for the Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE), India


The alliance is composed of groups in India united by the belief that children have a fundamental right to education. Its aims are:

  • to act as a platform to voice various opinions about specific issues so that people who normally do not hear such debates learn about them and participate in creating a broader consensus;

  • to work with all levels of government, parliament, citizenry, the media and industry/business to make the fundamental right to education and related matters a national priority;

  • to monitor the status of education while encouraging, creating and catalysing large-scale replicable models realising the fundamental right;

  • to work to gather and disseminate factual information about education to opinion-makers, policymakers and the parents of the children whose future is at stake.

The alliance was instrumental in the 2009 passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The Act guarantees free education for all children up to the age of 14 and specifically focuses on the education of girls and minorities.

National Coalition for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Indonesia http://www.eska.or.id/en/index.php?option=com_content&vie w=article&id=51&Itemid=58


The National Coalition has 17 members located in 11 provinces, including NGOs, law experts, and a university. It has implemented a series of programmes designed to eliminate child prostitution, child pornography, and child trafficking for sexual purposes, and to push community members and government to ensure that every child gets their fundamental rights and is protected from any form of commercial sexual exploitation.

Recent coalition activities include: formulating a strategic plan for legal reform on CSEC in Indonesia; mapping stakeholders to implement CSEC programmes in Indonesia; producing a directory of CSEC stakeholders in Indonesia; documenting experiences in handling CSEC cases; drafting and disseminating articles on CSEC; analysing incidences of CSEC in selected provinces in Indonesia; and advocating for the central and provincial governments to strengthen the plan of action for the elimination of CSEC.

Network of Indonesian Child Labor NGOs (Jarak)

Jarak is a strategy-focused network of national NGOs promoting the elimination of the worst forms of child labour in Indonesia. Jarak supervises and assists with the implementation of member activities and coordinates regional efforts.

Jarak works to change public opinion by conducting training and studies, providing funding for programming and promoting information access. Jarak also consults with the Indonesian government and law enforcement on changing public policy.

Coalition to Fight Against Child Exploitation (FACE)


FACE operates at both the policy and the grassroots levels in Thailand. Members include the Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights, Development & Education Programmes for Daughters and Communities, Friends of Thai Women Workers in Asia, and Child Workers in Asia

FACE began with the aim of monitoring Thailand’s justice system (assisting in obtaining evidence from victimised children and accompanying them to court) and is now also active lobbying local and international NGOs for laws, raising awareness through education and mass media, and cooperating to prosecute offenders.

Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, Child Trafficking for Sexual Purposes [ECPAT] in Cambodia, and the Campaign Against Child Labour [CACL]). India also appears to have a relatively more active community of child-focused organisations involved at the knowledge-policy interface level. Overall, however, the communities of practice identified have generally had greater success in agenda-setting and securing discursive commitments from governments than in achieving substantive policy change and influencing behavioural shifts.

Finally, as discussed in Chapter 4, international agencies such as Save the Children, Plan, World Vision and UNICEF are all helping to plug this knowledge–policy interface lacuna, as their work increasingly shifts towards evidence-based policy advocacy. However, as international donors and agencies have limited influence in many parts of Asia, their stature at the policy dialogue table is often modest, especially in contexts such as India, China or Vietnam.

5.5 Case study: children, citizen-led policy advocacy and the delivery of child-focused services in India


We now turn to a case study of policy-influencing efforts to strengthen the quality of education and health services for children in Andhra Pradesh State, India. As the preceding sections highlighted, Asia’s diversity makes it difficult to identify particular characteristics of the region’s knowledge–policy interface. However, there is a regional tendency for knowledge-production processes to be heavily shaped by the state, and even India, the region’s oldest democracy, shares this tendency. Thus, this case study provides a useful lens for exploring linkages between knowledge on childhood poverty and policy change in Asia. We begin by outlining the policy change objective of this citizen-led policy-influencing endeavour, then discuss how evidence was generated and utilised in an attempt to shape policy debates and eventual policy change outcomes.

Policy change objective and children’s 3D well-being

Our case study focuses on a UNICEF-funded policy research initiative to assess civic monitoring of children’s education and nutritional health services in Andhra Pradesh, one of India’s middle-income states (see Box 5.1) in 2005–07. The initiative sought to raise awareness about the strengths and weaknesses of decentralised approaches to social (p.152) policy delivery for children and to identify areas for improving child well-being outcomes.

There is growing recognition that India needs to take decisive action to enhance the well-being of millions of poor children. Despite strong economic growth and its emergence as an increasingly respected economic powerhouse, India continues to face significant challenges to improving human development indicators. The UNICEF (2007) MDG Progress Report revealed that India making insufficient or no progress on most goals, with the exceptions of eliminating gender disparities in primary education and the provision of safe drinking water. Andhra Pradesh is similarly off track in achieving the child-related MDGs.11 Approximately 32%12 of the state’s 76 million residents are aged 14 or under, many of whom live in rural areas with high levels of poverty.

There are encouraging signs of progress, however, in the Union Government’s Tenth and Eleventh National Five-Year Plans (2002–07, 2007–12), which provide clear child-related targets that are closely aligned with the MDGs. The mid-term evaluation of the Tenth Plan further emphasised the critical role of state governments in supporting these efforts by providing additional resources and ensuring that (p.153) state-level agencies are in charge of child-focused policies. The extent to which such decentralisation initiatives are making a difference in children’s lives, nevertheless, remains under-researched. In Andhra Pradesh, parental user committees were established to hold service providers accountable to the community for providing quality service to poor children (see Box 5.2 for further discussion on Andhra Pradesh’s decentralisation dynamics). These grassroots committees aim to correct the high level of centralisation in Indian service delivery,13 and have a mandate to monitor the delivery of maternal and child health and nutritional services and primary and secondary schools.14 Understanding the extent to which this model is empowering communities, improving service delivery and meeting national- and state-level child rights commitments is therefore of considerable policy importance.

3D evidence generation on 3D child well-being

Although natural resource-related user committees have sparked vigorous academic debate, the evidence base on the impacts of education and mothers’ committees on child well-being is thin. Here we focus on a partnership between Save the Children UK and the Hyderabad-based Centre for Economic and Social Studies, a state-affiliated research institute, which explored the extent to which participatory policy spaces introduced as part of the state’s decentralisation process (p.154) were enhancing child well-being outcomes, especially educational attainment, nutritional health and protection from harmful forms of child labour. A mixed-methods approach was employed, combining quantitative survey data and in-depth qualitative research involving repeat visits with committee members and programme implementers over the course of a year to a subsample of sites covering the state’s three main regions (Telangana, Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra). A detailed budget analysis was also undertaken15 despite considerable data constraints.16 To compensate, the project also collected information on policy, planning and budgeting processes to gain insights into local governance dynamics, including the spaces created by local governments for civic participation and grassroots implementation of policies and programmes (see Pereznieto et al, 2007).

Overall, the research findings painted a mixed picture of the impact of inclusive and meaningful participation in mothers’ and education user committees on service delivery. While parental involvement in monitoring service delivery processes appeared to be an important first step, programme design and implementation processes had to pay careful attention to minimising existing power relations if child well-being outcomes were to be realised. On the one hand, key informants and committee members agreed that committees enabled a broader cross-section of villagers to participate in public affairs than is the case with other governance institutions. Some members also felt that participation in education committees gave them a sense of entitlement and the right to question school authorities and even, potentially, government officials. Indeed, in several cases there were reports that education committee members continued to monitor education service delivery and interact with school personnel even after the committees were dissolved in 2005. Research also found positive accounts of improved interaction between mothers and anganwadi service providers in a number of communities.

On the other hand, however, a number of factors limiting the effectiveness of user committees as mechanisms to participate in service delivery decision-making and monitoring practices also emerged. Participation opportunities were significantly shaped by socio-economic, caste and gender power relations. The education committee chairmanship, for instance, emerged as a valued position for aspiring local party cadres, as it represented not only a potential stepping-stone to a career in politics, but also access to considerable funds for infrastructure development, and, hence, decision-making leverage. By contrast, parents who were wage labourers were less interested and less involved in committee activities as participation came at the cost (p.155) of their daily wage, and was thus deemed less important. There were also limited tangible incentives to be actively involved in mothers’ committees, which accorded members little prestige on account of the generally low priority placed on child and maternal health issues in village politics.17

Gender differences were also found to affect participation levels. Education committees were typically male-dominated, and, in cases where women were involved, their participation was more likely to be limited (especially if they were uneducated), with their husbands handling their responsibilities. Indeed, education levels – also mediated through class and caste positioning – played a key role in how involved members were in committee activities:

Women and lower-caste people have never been courageous enough to raise their voice against the upper castes. Elected leaders want to help their followers and are not interested in the marginalized or children … . When it comes to the backward classes, although they may be appointed sarpanch (village head), the vice chairman is typically a forward caste person who does all the work. So, the reservations are for namesake only. (Programme manager, Amrabad Mandal, interview, 2006)

In this regard, effective monitoring of teachers and anganwadi workers proved a demanding task, as many committee members felt unable to challenge front-line service providers, considering the latter to be socially and professionally superior.

Not surprisingly, given these structural power imbalances, the ambitious goals the government set for these committees, ranging from financial management and infrastructure development to greater parental involvement and responsibility for their children’s human capital development and monitoring of service provider standards, were only partially met. For instance, in committees with active members and/or support from proactive service providers, there was general consensus that local public health and education service outreach had improved. In the case of education committees, many respondents talked about efforts to persuade parents to monitor their children’s school enrolment and attendance, to allow drop-outs to re-enrol and to allocate time for children to do their homework. Several informants mentioned the important role that education committees played in addressing problems of child labour, child marriage and child trafficking, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention. However, little (p.156) demand was generated in committees where members were illiterate and/or poorly informed about their roles and responsibilities, unless their inactivity was compensated for by activist-oriented leaders or anganwadi workers.

Another important weakness identified was a strong bias towards infrastructure investment. Given that an important function of education committees was to oversee school development budgets together with school principals, many respondents focused on building repairs, constructing classrooms and toilets, whitewashing classroom walls, and purchasing gifts at national holidays. Although committee members also talked about their role in ensuring teacher attendance and teaching quality, such activities have fewer concrete outcomes, and success was therefore viewed as more difficult to demonstrate to the wider community and consequently less rewarding.

3D approaches to knowledge–policy interaction

The project’s approach to knowledge–policy interaction was embedded within the project design, including careful attention to the dynamics of policy narratives/messages, actors/networks and context/institutions.

Knowledge–policy interaction initiatives are especially complex when engaging with issues of decentralised service provision as multiple and interacting political-institutional contexts need to be taken into consideration. The project therefore sought to understand the political economy of decision-making around decentralisation at the national and state levels, including concerns about good governance and accountability, as well as the realities of decentralisation of social services in practice at the sub-state and local levels, including capacity deficits and elite capture of local decision-making authorities.

The multi-context focus in turn resulted in a multiplicity with whom to engage. These ranged from national-level officials and international agency staff to state and sub-state civil servants, and from programme implementers and service providers to committee participants. On account of their diverse vantage points and policy priorities, developing compelling policy narratives had to be approached creatively and avoid the temptation of ‘one message suits all’.

Accordingly, at the national and state levels, the strategy entailed the publication of high-level UNICEF reports disseminated at policy stakeholder seminars in Hyderabad and Delhi. These events aimed to highlight strengths and weaknesses of decentralisation efforts, and to discuss possible responses and approaches to support citizen-led monitoring efforts. In particular, national- and state-level policy (p.157) narratives were framed so as to support UNICEF to identify potentially transferable lessons across states and potentially across the South Asian region. For instance, at the national level, findings were framed within a broader debate about the value of decentralised service provision models, but introduced a cautionary note regarding the importance of ensuring that parents from low socio-economic strata are supported to develop the requisite capacities to monitor service quality. At the state level, the focus was somewhat distinct, drawing upon the positive developments that committees had contributed to local communities in an effort to encourage stakeholders to not dismiss the potential of parental user committees despite the problems related to their politicisation in the Andhra Pradesh context (see Jones et al, 2007a, 2007b).

At the district and sub-district (mandal) levels, policy-influencing efforts focused on developing tailored policy briefis drawing on locale-specific findings for follow-up discussions with local stakeholders, and disseminating cartoon-based brochures for community feedback sessions. The latter were deemed critical in order to communicate to a largely illiterate or semi-literate population who had contributed time and insights during key informant interviews and focus group discussions. It was also seen as a mechanism for honouring a project commitment to the principle of community reciprocity and more equal exchange of information. Policy narratives were kept simple, focusing on the benefits of engagement in service monitoring committees, and opportunities for strengthening knowledge and skills about existing policies and services for child well-being.

Finally, at the international level, the results were presented at international conferences on governance (in the US) and on child rights and policy processes (in Norway). Here the narrative employed highlighted the importance of more careful empirical work on decentralised social policy budget provisions and delivery to plug important knowledge gaps and to strengthen evidence-informed policy and programme development.

Outcomes of a 3D approach

This evidence-informed policy-influencing initiative had mixed outcomes for child well-being. On the positive side, after close dialogue with UNICEF Hyderabad and the Andhra Pradesh Department of Women and Children, the project team was invited to help formulate a State Action Plan for Children and draw on insights from the project’s evidence base. Although this role did not involve the development of (p.158) detailed policy prescriptions relating to the parental user committees per se, it represented an important opportunity to contribute directly to policy development on child well-being. More generally, the project’s evidence-generation process helped strengthen awareness among UNICEF, researchers at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies and officials with child-related mandates about the specific challenges involved in monitoring decentralised service delivery. It especially highlighted the shortcomings of budgetary data-collection efforts in the area of child service delivery, and the need for child well-being advocates to think strategically about how best to capitalise upon the new window represented by the 2005 Right to Information Act.

Equally importantly, the process of interacting with user committee members over the course of a year facilitated some participants’ unprecedented reflection on the potential of their role. As one education committee member from Kataram mandal reflected:

We now realise that the absence of the committees will be an advantage for teachers. An EC [education committee] chairman can question teachers as a representative of parents of 400 children. If we ask about teachers’ attendance individually they used to dismiss our queries. If the committee is not there, they won’t listen to anybody. Even the headmaster, they pressure him through the [teachers’] union. But they cannot do it to us. (Interview, 2006)

However, the project’s knowledge interaction efforts also highlighted important limitations. First, there was a dearth of local champions for children’s rights with whom to partner. A common thread across the project’s research sites was the extent to which child well-being is marginalised in policy and programming debates at the local level. Despite less than satisfactory child well-being indicators in Andhra Pradesh and significant disparities in district performance, there seemed to be little interest in investing in children beyond state-contributed resources. One of the main reasons for the invisibility of children revealed by interviews was the fact that political leaders are interested in popular programmes that will translate into political support. Given that children are not seen as ‘vote banks’, political platforms do not focus on child-related issues:

During the last two years none of the local council members ever discussed issues related to woman and children. Nobody in the zilla parishad [district council], either councillors or (p.159) MPs, raised such issues. But if our children get educated and our women’s health progresses, then we can have a good district, good mandal and good village. We need to do more to make this happen. (Chairman zilla parishad, Mahboobnagar district, interview, 2006)

In this regard, the project’s findings endorsed the view that user committees were functioning as parallel institutions weakly connected to local political structures. This distance tended to be exacerbated by the capacity deficits of many committee members, who were often inexperienced vis-à-vis policy processes and were generally offered few opportunities to develop their capacities through the user committee programme.

Second, while education and mothers’ committees were set up to improve user participation in public services, there were very limited provisions for children’s voices to be taken into account in service delivery or for their interests to be represented on committees. Indeed, not only did the project find an absence of children’s participation across the research sites, but there was little support for such an initiative. This was particularly evident in the case of education committee chairs. Concerned with securing future political advancement, their incentives lay in promoting activities popular with the voting public, for example, investing in visible examples of infrastructure development such as the construction of compound walls or new school buildings, rather than actions that prioritised children’s concerns about the content of the school curricula or bullying. As such, a key project conclusion was the importance of identifying and supporting adult champions of children’s rights without which demand for integrating a child-sensitive perspective into local decision-making is likely to remain weak. Ideally knowledge interaction efforts would include working alongside local actors to strengthen such capacities, but this requires mid- to long-term project funding, which is unfortunately rare.

A third key challenge the project encountered was the difficulty of liaising with poorly coordinated government agencies with child-related mandates. A prime consideration in assessing any decentralised policy initiative is the extent to which responsible government agencies have an institutional presence at the sub-national level and, if so, the relative efficacy of mechanisms to facilitate joined-up child-focused service provision. In theory at least, India’s ICDS offers a compelling institutional structure, as it is nationally coordinated and funded; has offices and staff at the state, district and mandal levels; and seeks to address children’s educational, health and nutritional needs. However, although (p.160) ICDS coverage in Andhra Pradesh is relatively high,18 it has not been as effective as its design would suggest due to underfunding, inadequate staff training and often poor infrastructure. ICDS programmes also only target children aged six and under, leaving a pronounced gap in services to address the needs of older children at the village and municipal levels.19 Furthermore, in most cases state-planned child-related programmes lack local-level government officials to implement them. For example, no one is directly responsible for implementing child protection programmes, and project directors/officers from the Department for Women and Children tasked with running ICDS centres have little clout. Thus, they can do little to ensure that other, more powerful, local government officials push for the implementation of child protection schemes, including eliminating child abuse and harmful forms of child labour, resulting in limited government action on these key issues.

Finally, the project’s budget monitoring work found that at the district and mandal levels decisions about budget planning and spending remained centralised at the state level, indicating a disjuncture between political and administrative decentralisation in Andhra Pradesh (Pereznieto et al, 2007). Only in cases of emergency, such as drought or epidemic outbreaks, are district budgets given additional resources and the flexibility to tackle specific problems. By contrast, funds to address child welfare problems such as higher-than-average child labour or infant mortality rates were not available (Pereznieto et al, 2007). The findings further indicated weak linkage between departments and sectors at the state and local levels. Sectoral linkages were only vertical, with the transfer of funds from state line departments flowing to administrators at the implementation points, and district governments playing no role. As such, interviews with local government officials in charge of implementing sectoral schemes were unaware of child-focused programmes in other sectors that could be implemented in a more coordinated manner (Pereznieto et al, 2007). This lack of horizontal linkages hinders the identification and realisation of potential policy and budget synergies to address the interlinked causes of childhood poverty holistically (Harper, 2004).

5.6 Conclusions

Three general insights emerge from the discussion on child well-being, the regional overview of knowledge and policy actors and processes working on policy change to improve child well-being, and the empirical study of knowledge–policy interactions in India. This (p.161) chapter has paid particular attention to the complex challenges involved in research-informed policy engagement work around decentralised policy processes for children, and identified a number of key areas that urgently need to be addressed if decentralisation is to fulfil its potential to promote the achievement of the child-related MDGs and childhood poverty reduction more broadly.

Policy ideas and narratives

As decentralisation is a relatively new and evolving process in many developing-country contexts, a key policy concern entails addressing knowledge gaps about policy and programme impacts on child well-being over time. The robustness of any child-focused policy- and budget-monitoring effort depends on the availability of age- (and gender-)disaggregated programme and budgetary data down to the lowest tiers of government, and corresponding child well-being indicators. Accordingly, promoting the collection, reporting and use of age-disaggregated data at the sub-national level needs to be urgently prioritised. Too often data-collection investments are made at the national or state levels, but not below, thereby risking overlooking the importance of spatial patterning of poverty and vulnerability.

Investing in a systematic mapping of policies, from the national level down, is also an important prerequisite for policy engagement efforts around decentralised policy issues as it can help identify entry and veto points in local-level policy and programming. Given the differing governance dynamics and dominant policy narratives at play at the sub-national level, it is also critical that policy-mapping of this nature be understood vis-à-vis specific local political contexts – an endeavour that is often more time-consuming than similar national-level analysis due to less readily available materials.

Policy actors and networks

One of the main constraints to adequate service delivery in the context of decentralisation is the capacity gaps faced by local government officials and civil society actors. Therefore, an important component of any policy research endeavour in this area is to assess the capacity-building mechanisms being put in place in accordance with the responsibilities being devolved and the existing capacity constraints. If local participatory spaces for planning and monitoring are to be used effectively to improve governance and pursue locally identified needs, specific mechanisms need to be put in place to encourage (p.162) such participation by parents and children irrespective of caste, class or gender. Incentives for participation appear to be a particularly important consideration in the area of childhood well-being, which typically attracts little attention from officials and mainstream civil society practitioners. Practical livelihood barriers for the poorest also need to be overcome, as do social exclusion practices through longer-term empowerment initiatives so that women and lower-caste groups are encouraged to participate in local policy processes.

Policy context and institutions

Finally, given that national-level policy frameworks (often informed by international commitments) and local development plans coexist and guide the actions of stakeholders at different levels of government, it is important to ensure institutionalised dialogue among these levels. Monitoring mechanisms are needed to ensure that minimum national standards and targets are met and also to serve as a check and balance against the dominance of local elites. At the same time, incomplete devolution of responsibilities and budgets from central to local governments may hinder effective coordination and roll-out of child-sensitive policy initiatives. In such cases, without greater national government commitment to genuine decentralisation, the ability of new policy pronouncements to tackle childhood poverty are likely to be limited. Knowledge–policy interaction efforts around decentralised policy issues must therefore balance communication and interaction with state- and local-level actors, with policy advocacy efforts that reach national and international audiences in order to contribute to such synergies.


(1) This chapter draws on and develops ideas from Jones et al (2007a, 2007b) and Pereznieto et al (2007).

(2) Note that these indicators are only currently available in the MICS3 data set.

(3) Note that there is no central database of such institutions and this table is the authors’ own compilation.

(4) RECOUP is a research partnership of seven institutions in the UK, Africa and South Asia funded by DFID and led by the University of Cambridge. RECOUP examines the impact of education on the lives and livelihoods of people in developing countries, particularly those (p.163) living in poorer areas and from poorer households. See http://recoup.educ.cam.ac.uk//

(5) The Childwatch International Research Network is a global network of institutions collaborating on child research for the purpose of promoting child rights and improving children’s well-being around the world. See http://www.childwatch.uio.no/

(6) Although there was considerable optimism that local governance would increase women’s access to political power, quantitative evidence suggests that it has actually been more difficult for women to gain political office at the sub-national level, except where gender quota systems are in place (Mukhopadhyay, 2005). Moreover, contrary to the view that participation at the local level may serve as a springboard to national politics, local government is often more hierarchical and embedded in local social structures than national government, making it difficult for women to introduce gender equality measures (e.g. Jones, 2006). Where decentralisation has facilitated better gender justice outcomes, it has been supported by complementary policies to address gender inequality – such as capacity-building initiatives for women elected to local government bodies, the introduction of gender audits and/or gender budgeting mechanisms, and the organisation of women’s constituencies – and concerted civil society organising (Cos-Montiel, 2005).

(7) As responsibilities and funding are devolved to local bodies, national governments still have two important roles to play: i) ensuring equitable financing across sub-national regions; and ii) maintaining quality control of standards.

(8) Often comparative data are only involved at the national or state level, but not at more decentralised levels, making it difficult to tailor policy measures and related monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. This is particularly problematic when it comes to budgetary data. While there is increasing recognition of good practice examples from Latin America of children’s participation in local council budget monitoring activities (especially the now famous case of a children’s municipal council in Barra Mansa, Brazil, where children actively contribute to municipal planning, see Guerra, 2002), such examples have tended to be pilots that have seldom been scaled up. As such, the availability of budget data that can be easily disaggregated to track spending on child-related services over time remains a major challenge to implementing the UNCRC commitment to progressive realisation of rights (Pereznieto et al, 2007).

(p.164) (9) The ‘Plan of Action’ adopted at the 1990 World Summit for Children recognised the importance of grassroots initiatives for children at the provincial level. In many countries, this call for ‘decentralisation’ has triggered the beginnings of an unprecedented process.

(10) Varghese (2004) points out that East Asian countries saw rapid expansion of higher education enrolment rates between 1970 (5.1%) and 2000 (24.6%).

(11) According to a Centre for Economic and Social Studies (Dev, 2007) report, Andhra Pradesh is off track in halving the proportion of underweight children; in achieving universal primary education, especially for girls; and in reducing child mortality by two thirds.

(12) Andhra Pradesh census data (Census of India 2001[2006]).

(13) This need was particularly pressing in the case of maternal and child health and early child development services, which are the responsibility of the ICDS, a programme funded and managed by the Union of India federal government. Education services are largely funded by a nationwide programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, with some state-level input into education policy development.

(14) There is a more substantial literature analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the natural resource management user committees (e.g. Manor, 2004).

(15) See Jones et al (2007a) and Pereznieto et al (2007).

(16) Problems included the lack of budget-related data collection by some local governments; the absence of state government records on public expenditure data per district or sub-district unit; and/or reluctance on the part of some officials to share such information, the 2005 Right to Information Act notwithstanding. The project also sought to obtain child well-being indicators corresponding to the districts and sub-districts (mandals) where data was collected to draw out linkages between outlays and outcomes, but, again, indicators at this level are not available in official statistics (Pereznieto et al, 2007).

(17) There was more enthusiasm in sites where members had received training on health and nutrition issues and recognised the value of this knowledge to improve their own and their families’ health.

(18) ICDS covered 7, 742, 986 children in 2007/08 aged six years and under in Andhra Pradesh. See http://wdcw.ap.nic.in/icds/html

(p.165) (19) For middle childhood and adolescence, the range of departments involved in providing specific children’s services is broad and includes the Departments of Women and Children; Education; Health and Family Welfare; and Social Welfare and Labour. Yet according to key state government officials, there is little or no coordination among state authorities regarding the activities and schemes carried out by these departments, resulting in frequent duplication of functions and service delivery gaps.