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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 Latin America and the Caribbean

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

(p.166) (p.167) Six Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean
Child poverty, evidence and policy

Nicola Jones

Andy Sumner

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter deals with children and the knowledge–policy interface in Latin America. It briefly outlines the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being across Latin America 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 Latin America, paying particular attention to the role of the media in shaping policy debates in the region and the rise of civil society in demanding greater accountability and transparency over the last two decades. It presents a case study of evidence-informed policy change in the context of an NGO-led initiative aimed at mainstreaming children's rights into macro-policy debates about trade liberalization, good governance, and service delivery in Peru.

Keywords:   children, knowledge–policy interface, Latin America, child poverty, macro-policy debates, trade liberalization, good governance, service delivery

6.1 Introduction

This chapter is about children and the knowledge–policy interface in Latin America, and is structured as follows: Section 1 briefly outlines the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being across Latin America using the 3D well-being approach, and Section 2 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 Latin America, paying particular attention to the role of the media in shaping policy debates in the region and the rise of civil society in demanding greater accountability and transparency over the last two decades. Section 4 presents a case study of evidence-informed policy change in the context of an NGO-led initiative aimed at mainstreaming children’s rights into macro-policy debates about trade liberalisation, good governance and service delivery in Peru. Finally, Section 5 concludes.

6.2 Children and well-being in Latin America and the Caribbean

In this section, we provide an overview of the extent and nature of child poverty and well-being in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) across material, relational and subjective dimensions.

Material child well-being

To recap Chapter 1, the material dimension of child well-being concerns practical welfare, standards of living and the objectively observable outcomes that 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 LAC. (p.168)

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Figure 6.1: MDG 1 – underweight children in LAC

Source: UNDESA (2009).

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Figure 6.2: MDG 2 – net primary enrolment in LAC

Source: UNDESA (2009).

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Figure 6.3: MDG 4 – under-five mortality in LAC

Source: UNDESA (2009).

The story these graphs tell is generally a positive one (also see Table 6.1). The MDGs for underweight children, net primary enrolment and under-five mortality are on track and very positive based on international comparisons – only 6% of children are born underweight, 95% of the relevant cohort of children are enrolled in primary school and under-five mortality is just 24/1, 000.

Table 6.1: Children in LAC: selected material well-being indicators




2015 estimate on current trend

MDG target

Underweight children (%)





Net primary enrolment (%)





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





Source: UNDESA (2009).

The above picture has, as with Africa and Asia, been complicated by the Lancet review of MDG 4 under-five mortality data (You et al, 2009). Indeed, You et al conclude that under-five mortality has declined by half in LAC since 1990 at an annual rate of 4.5%. (p.170)

Table 6.2: LAC: 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 (%)

Latin America and the Caribbean







Source: You et al (2009: 1–2).

Relational child well-being

To recap Chapter 1, the relational dimension of child well-being concerns the extent to which people – children and adults – are able to engage with others in order to achieve their particular needs and goals. As with other developing-country regions, such relational well-being data are difficult to find for Latin America, but there are growing data-collection efforts.

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 review of these suggests a mixed picture in LAC.

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Figure 6.4: MDG 3 - gender equality in education in LAC

Source: UNDESA (2009).

Child poverty, knowledge and policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

Figure 6.5: MDG 5 – maternal mortality ratio in LAC

Source: UNDESA (2009).

The story these graphs tell is generally good (also see Table 6.3). MDG 3 (gender equality in education) has already been achieved and MDG 5 (maternal mortality) is on track in LAC. The 2015 Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) estimate for LAC is 45.

Table 6.3: Children in LAC: selected relational well-being indicators




2015 estimate on current trend

MDG target

Gender equality in education (%)





Maternal mortality (per 100, 000 live births)





Source: UNDESA (2009).

As noted previously, Hogan et al (2010) recently re-estimated maternal mortality data in The Lancet. What is immediately evident when the data are disaggregated by region is considerable variation between Southern Latin America’s MMR of 41 and the Caribbean’s 254. Other disparities are also evident in recent work by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) (2010) on eight Latin America countries, which found infant mortality of indigenous peoples/territories and non-indigenous people at much higher levels than recorded in national-level censuses. (p.172)

Table 6.4: MMR per 100, 000 live births by LAC region










Latin America, Andean





Latin America, Central





Latin America, Southern





Latin America, tropical





Source: Hogan et al (2010).

UNICEF MICS data is available for only a handful of Latin American countries (see Table 6.5), making it impossible to extrapolate regional trends. For the LAC countries for which data is available, birth registration is nearly universal in Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago and the prevalence of orphans in these countries is low. Interestingly, while Guyana’s percentage of children left without adequate care is nearly twice the rate of orphanhood (11.3% versus 5.7%), in Trinidad and Tobago even orphans (5.9%) do not lack for care (1%). More than one tenth of Jamaican children, on the other hand, are considered vulnerable.

Women’s knowledge of HIV prevention hovers around 50% – ranging from 39% in Belize to nearly 60% in Jamaica. Their understanding of mother-to-child HIV transmission averages slightly higher, with Trinidad and Tobago having the lowest rate at 50.3% and Belize the highest at nearly 60%. Marriage of young adolescents is uncommon, although one in five women in Guyana was married before her 18th birthday.

Table 6.5: Selected LAC 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/C (%)

Prevalence of vulnerable children (%)

Belize (2006)







Guyana (2006–07)







Jamaica (2005)







Trinidad & Tobago (2006)







Source: UNICEF MICS3, downloaded from www.micscompiler.org/MICS.html

(p.173) 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 LAC children are almost non-existent. Peru is covered in Crivello et al (2009), and Johnston (2008: 34) reports that children believed that a peer who is ‘doing well’ is likely to: be conscientious and successful in his/her studies; be good, affectionate, punctual, respectful, polite and obedient; be sociable, have a lot of friends and avoid anti-social behaviour, including gangs and fighting; have his/her family around him/her and be loved and understood by them; be well-off economically (rural site boys only); and be healthy.

Table 6.6: Children in LAC: selected subjective well-being studies of children’s perceptions of poverty and well-being

Country and reference

Key findings

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

This article reviews Young Lives’ work on developing childfocused, participatory, qualitative methods that capture how children understand 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 saw as often being 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.

Johnston (2008)

Based on a PPA with children, this article’s main findings on children’s perceptions of well-being were: a child who is ‘doing well’ is likely to: be conscientious and successful in his/her studies; be good, affectionate, punctual, respectful, polite, and obedient; be sociable, have a lot of friends, and avoid anti-social behaviour, including gangs and fighting; have his/her family around him/her and be loved and understood by them; be well-off economically (rural site boys only); and be healthy.

6.3 Knowledge generation and child well-being in Latin America and the Caribbean

Although still relatively fledgling and less developed than knowledge on Northern childhoods, the generation of research-based knowledge (p.174) on child poverty and well-being in Latin America is more extensive than that for Africa or Asia. As Karen Wells (2009: 8–9) notes:

The North American history of childhood forms part of a narrative of general progress and improvement, tempered by increased differentiation by ‘race’ and class of children’s experiences. This is not the case for Latin American history where the themes that preoccupy historians of childhood continue to be the focus of the contemporary sociology of Latin American childhood … . [These include] abandoned children and the structure of the family, criminal children, children and urban disorder, the child-saving movement, the impact of war on children, the practice of informal fostering or ‘child-circulation’ amongst poor families and street children.

This growing knowledge base is reflected in the number of institutions dedicated to researching childhood well-being (see Table 6.7).1 As Table 6.7 highlights, there are a number of research institutes with a regional perspective on child well-being, including the International Centre for Research and Policy on Childhood (CIESPI) in Brazil, the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Social Institutions (RISALC) in Chile, the International Centre for Education and Human Development (CINDE) in Colombia and the Inter-American Children’s Institute in Uruguay, as well as a sizeable number of organisations that focus on research on children at a national level. Their thematic foci are diverse, and include the documentation of best practices for social programmes focused on women and children, children’s media representation, children’s education and psychosocial development, and child protection as broadly defined. Given the declining presence of international donors in Latin America over the last decade, the emergence of this epistemic community on child rights and well-being is an important development that should be closely monitored to draw out potential lessons for fostering similar research capacities in other developing-country regions.

UNICEF, ECLAC, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the World Bank are also increasingly carrying out important research into childhood poverty and well-being in Latin America. UNICEF country and subregional offices on the continent have partnered with a range of institutions (e.g. the New School University, Columbia University and ECLAC’s social division) to undertake research on, for instance, children and social inclusion, children- and (p.175) (p.176)

Table 6.7: Selected institutions with a research focus on child poverty and well-being in Latin America


Home location

Affiliations and partnerships

Thematic focus

International Centre for Research and Policy on Childhood (CIESPI)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Childwatch partner working in Latin America

CIESPI is a research and reference centre dedicated to research and on-the-ground projects about children and youth and their families and communities. Its goal is to inform policy and practice for this population, thereby contributing to the implementation of children’s rights and promoting their full development. http://www.ciespi.org.br/english/index.htm

Centre for the Study and Care of Children and Women (CEANIM)


Childwatch partner

CEANIM designs and implements evaluations of programmes targeted at women and children. It provides technical expertise to those on the ground and serves to promote best practices in the field. www.accionag.cl/archives/2191

Latin American and Caribbean Network of Social Institutions (RISALC)


Affiliated to ECLAC, UN working in Latin America

The Network of Social Institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean is comprised of 1, 372 governmental, academic, and civil society institutions in the region that are focused on research and indicator development related to a wide range of social issues, including those pertaining to children and youth. http://www.risalc.org:9090/portal/index.php

The network has a new thematic web portal on youth, the Ibero-American System for Knowledge on Youth (Sistema Iberoamericano de Conocimiento en Juventud). http://sicj.cepal.org/

International Centre for Education and Human Development (CINDE)


Childwatch partner working in Latin America

CINDE is an educational research and development centre, based in Colombia, with local, national, and international presence. Its focus is the creation of appropriate environments to promote the healthy physical and psychosocial development of young children. http://www.cinde.org.co/English.htm

Fundación Paniamor

Costa Rica

Childwatch partner

Fundacion Paniamor is a Costa Rican non-profit, non-partisan, private organisation focused on child rights from a preventive and technical perspective. http://www.paniamor.or.cr/

Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of Childhood and Adolescence (INEINA-UNA)

Costa Rica

INEINA-UNA aims to conduct research on child and adolescent issues, and provides training and education for students, community members, and faculty. http://www.una.ac.cr/

Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC)


Childwatch partner

The CCDC’s mission is to support holistic development for Caribbean children through collaborative research to inform policy and programme development, information management and dissemination, training and public service, and advocacy. http://www.open.uwi.edu/academics/ResearchUnit/director-Consortium.php

Documentation Centre on Infancy and Childhood


Childwatch partner

The centre works to promote legal, educational, social, and policy changes on infancy, childhood, and youth towards a more inclusive framework coherent with the UNCRC through participatory research, networking, educational training programmes and information sharing. http://www.uam.mx/cdi/

Inter-American Children’s Institute


Childwatch partner working in Latin America

The institute’s principal purpose is to cooperate with member state governments to promote the development of technical activities and instruments that contribute to the integral protection of children and the improvement of their and their families’ quality of life. www.iin.oas.org/IIN/english/index.shtml

Centre for Childhood and Family Research (CENDIF)


Childwatch partner

CENDIF’s main objective is the study of children, youth, and their families, as well as various aspects of human development. An important feature of its work is the development and dissemination of alternative practices to expand and improve programmes and services in the areas of education, health, and development of the poorest sectors of society

(p.177) family-oriented policies, children and the MDGs, children and social protection, indigenous children’s rights, children and HIV/AIDS, birth registration policies, children and social protection, as well as violence against children and adolescents (ECLAC and UNICEF, 2005). 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. Recently, the IADB has also undertaken research on children and adolescents, including issues related to intergenerational educational mobility, child labour, use of childcare services, child abuse and child health and nutrition services, while the World Bank is supporting a range of impact evaluations on cash transfers and children’s human capital development and investments in programmes for at-risk youth.

Finally, there is an embryonic body of research involving children’s participation (see Table 6.8). This work has largely focused on methodological challenges to tapping children’s perceptions (including limitations of interactive tools such as drawing and photography), but also highlights the importance of play in children’s understanding of well-being and the complex trade-offs involved in school attendance versus work activities.

6.4 Knowledge-policy interactions in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America is a diverse continent with considerable variation in types and quality of governance, the nature of state–civil society interactions, levels of economic development, human capital and inequality, social policy regimes and so on. Opportunities and challenges for engaging in evidence-informed policy influencing in the region are also quite varied, but some broad trends distinguish the region from the African and Asian contexts discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, respectively. Therefore, this section provides a brief overview of some of the key contours that shape Latin America’s knowledge–policy interface, paying particular attention to the media’s role in shaping policy debates, as well as the rise of civil society in demanding greater accountability and transparency over the last two decades.

The role of the media

In Latin America, the media has emerged as a key player in policy processes. Liberal political theory has long advocated that an independent press is essential to promote freedom of expression and (p.178) (p.179)

Table 6.8: Selected research in peer-reviewed journals about children involving children’s participation in Latin America




Key findings

Camfield et al (2009)

Value of qualitative methods

Draws on Young Lives and WeD research, including in Peru

This article discusses the challenges and benefits of qualitative methods of understanding well-being in both children and adults. While being time intensive and requiring carefully trained researchers, these methods allow for a more holistic understanding of respondents’ perceptions and can be fruitfully combined with quantitative approaches to maximise explanatory power.

Camfield et al (2009)

Researching children’s wellbeing

Draws on Young Lives research, including in Peru

This article begins with the notion that the concept of well-being could draw together the three competing strands of research with children: longitudinal, participatory, and indicator-based. Using Young Lives as an example, the author demonstrates that well-being indicators need to be sensitive to age, gender, and culture, and dynamic enough to allow for change.

Crivello et al (2009).

Qualitative methods used in Young Lives

Young Lives research, including Peru

This article reviews Young Lives’ work on developing child-focused, participatory, qualitative methods that capture what children understand about their own well-being and how that understanding changes over time. These methods, which include timelines and body mapping, allow research to move beyond simple quantitative measures of child poverty. They also showed that although 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.

Punch (2002)

Conceptualising children in research and children’s participation


This article begins with the notion that how one perceives children’s status determines how one hears what they have to say. While children are not used to being taken seriously and adults have a difficult time seeing the world from a child’s perspective, various methods offer researchers the opportunity to capture the child as a competent actor. This small study with school children in Bolivia used a combination of drawings, photographs, diaries, and worksheets to maintain child interest and increase reliability. Rural children had little access to visual images and little experience with art supplies, making drawing a sometimes problematic method, particularly for older children who judged the quality of their drawings harshly. Photography, on the other hand, is liable to capturing what is ‘now’ rather than what is generally important.

Woodhead (1999)

Children’s participation in research

Includes case studies from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua

This study of 300 children used the Children’s Perspective Protocol to ascertain which occupations children viewed as desirable and undesirable. Listening to children’s perspectives allows stakeholders to ascertain how they weigh risks and benefits and adjust targets accordingly. Children are very clear on the advantages and disadvantages of both work and school – the ability to combine both was viewed as the most desirable outcome in all locations. For example, children reported that they got hot and itchy working in fields, and were often beaten as porters and domestic workers. However, school had its own drawbacks, with children reporting humiliation, beatings and high costs as disadvantages. On the positive side, children enjoyed the money, autonomy and skills they got from work and the literacy and numeracy they learned at school. Children do not see their exclusion from the workforce as a desirable outcome, as the money that they earn is often what keeps them from hunger.

(p.180) foster informed political debate among citizens. As Norris (2008: 67) argues:

in the first stage [of democratisation], the initial transition from autocracy opens up the state control of the media to private ownership, diffuses access, and reduces official censorship and government control of information … . [I]n the second stage, democratic consolidation and human development are strengthened where journalists in independent newspapers, radio and television stations facilitate greater transparency and accountability in governance, by serving in their watch-dog roles, as well as providing a civic forum for multiple voices in public debate, and highlighting social problems to inform the policy agenda.

Since the 1980s, authoritarian regimes in Latin America have been largely overthrown by democratising forces, and with this the media has taken on an increasingly important role in shaping policy agendas and providing a civic forum for a plurality of voices in public debate. Indeed, by 2005, Latin America (with the notable exceptions of Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia) enjoyed the highest freedom of the press ranking in the developing world, with a Freedom House average regional score of 62 (Norris, 2008). Moreover, a 2004 UNDP report found that 65.2% of opinion leaders in the region identified the media as the second most powerful institution on the political stage, following private economic power at 79.9%, but ahead of public institutions, which were placed a distant third at less than 50%.

Opinion is, however, divided as to whether the media’s power in Latin American policy processes is positive or negative. On the one hand, there are encouraging signs that the media’s visibility has been linked with the strengthening of civil society and the democratisation of information flows. This can be seen in the rise of a vigorous alternative community media movement (including over 4, 000 community radio stations2), the emergence of media monitoring observatories and critique networks (such as Calandria in Peru and the Observatoria da Imprensa in Brazil), a growing interest in media ethics, the right to information, and citizens’ participation in media, as well as training in socially responsible journalism (Banfi, 2006).

On the other hand, mainstream media in the region is highly concentrated in the hands of a few media moguls. On average, more than 70% of the national market and audience share is dominated by (p.181) just four top companies. This structural concentration has resulted in lack of diversity in content and points of view, excluding voices and topics of interest to regional and ethnic minorities from the news agenda (Inter-American Dialogue, 2009). As Briscoe (2009: 1) argues, ‘the entire architecture of the region’s media … is criss-crossed by lines linking it to major economic and political actors, whether through corporate tie-ups on one side or unofficial patronage on the other’. Indeed, in some cases, this loss of independent information culminates in intimidation, de facto censorship and even violence against journalists (Banfi, 2006).3

The role of civil society

A second critical trend in Latin America over the last several decades has been the emergence of an increasingly vibrant civil society, with many organisations focused on strengthening political transparency and accountability. Following the violation of liberal guarantees during decades of authoritarian rule, special emphasis has been placed since the 1980s on the restoration of basic civil liberties and the language of rights and citizenship. As Craske and Molyneux (2002: 1) argue, ‘Rights talk was used to raise awareness among the poor and the socially marginalised of their formal legal rights, but also to call into question their lack of substantive rights … and to make claims for social justice.’ The range of rights that civil society organisations champion has been broad – ranging from health, education and child welfare to indigenous rights and environmental protection – and many have gained representation in deliberative bodies at the municipal level as power was decentralised as part of the democratisation process (Keck and Abers, 2006). Civil society organisations have also increasingly become important players in the provision and communication of new knowledge on policy-related issues, as evidenced in particular by the growth of the think-tank sector in the region since the 1990s.4 As policy processes, especially those pertaining to economic development, have become more and more complex, information politics has played a critical role in the relationship between state and civil society actors. Uña et al (2010), for instance, highlight the importance of think tanks in securing popular support across class divides for anti-poverty measures in the region through the provision of rigorous expert-led evidence.

However, as Table 6.9 illustrates, the field remains limited in terms of knowledge intermediaries focusing on child well-being. Only a small number of communities of practice are concerned with child well-being at the regional level, and this holds true at the national and sub-national (p.182) (p.183)

Table 6.9: Selected communities of practice on child well-being in Latin America


Time frame


Type of policy impact

News Agency for Children’s Rights (ANDI) www.andi.org.br/


ANDI was created in 2000 and encompasses 11 organisations working closely to spotlight childhood on the media agenda. ANDI aims to strengthen the system of protection of rights; improve means of access, production, and delivery of communication; encourage child and adolescent participation in media and society at large; improve access to and quality of primary education; and direct public policy around childhood and adolescence.

ANDI has achieved important changes in the way journalists and newspaper editors in Brazil and other parts of Latin America report on children. Since 2000, a total of 346 journalists have been trained and honoured.

Argentinean Committee for the Follow-up of the UNCRC (CASACIDN) www.casacidn.org.ar/


This Argentinean coalition of nearly two dozen civil society organisations works to promote the rights of children and adolescents. The main objectives of the committee are to disseminate information on the UNCRC and mobilise the community to effectively protect the rights of children.

CASACIDN’s work focuses on: investigating claims concerning threats to and violations of the rights of children and youth; drafting Alternative Reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children; capacity building and institutional strengthening; and monitoring provincial and national laws on the protection of the rights of children.

Child Rights Network in Mexico http://www.derechosinfancia.org.mx/Red/red_ing1.htm


The network is a union of 63 Mexican civil organisations, operating in 14 states, which develop programmes to support Mexican children in vulnerable situations.

The network works to strengthen children’s institutions, encourage children’s participation, ensure that children’s rights are on policy agendas, promote knowledge sharing, and, through workshops and training, to move public opinion towards recognising children’s rights.

Equity for Children in Latin America http://www.equidadparalainfancia.org/


This online forum provides students, professors, academics, and practitioners with an interactive space to learn, research, and communicate on thematic issues related to child poverty, rights, and social issues.

This forum facilitates learning and communication between key children’s rights actors. Important foci are social policy and impact monitoring and evaluation.

Ibero-American Network for the Defence of Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights http://www.redlamyc.info/


This group pulls together 30 national NGO networks from 24 LAC countries – all involved in defending children’s rights.

The group works to prioritise children’s rights issues on national and regional agendas, facilitate communication between actors in the region, and provide a forum for learning.

Jamaica Coalition on the Rights of the Child http://ccwrn.org/Brochures/Chhave_right2/index.htm


This umbrella body promotes and monitors the UNCRC in Jamaica.

The coalition lobbies the government to ensure that the UNCRC is included in national plans, policies, and programmes. It also assists NGOs in understanding the UNCRC and provides public education.

(p.184) levels. Partial exceptions include communities focused on child rights monitoring, investigating rights violations, capacity strengthening around children’s rights (including for media professionals) and social policy impact assessments. Overall, the communities identified have generally had greater success establishing monitoring processes than impacting substantive policy change and influencing behavioural shifts. The one partial exception is the News Agency for Children’s Rights (ANDI) in Brazil, which has contributed to an important shift in the extent and way that journalists in the region report on children’s issues, as the following quote highlights:

ANDI has contributed to the rise in the coverage of topics related to childhood and adolescence in Brazil: from 10, 700 articles published in newspapers in 1996 to 161, 807 articles in 2004. The quality of coverage also increased in a significant way, with an increase of 45% in the number of articles focused on the search for solutions. In this way, ANDI contributes to forming Brazilian public opinion on the topic, and supporting social actors in order to be able to act and acquire the proper influence on public policy formulation. (Banfi, 2006: 126)

6.5 Case study: children, NGO-led policy advocacy and Peruvian policy processes


We now turn to a case study on policy-influencing efforts to mainstream children’s rights into Peru’s policy process. Peru shares many of the broader knowledge–policy–practice characteristics outlined in the previous section, and thus provides a useful lens through which to explore linkages between knowledge on childhood poverty and policy change in Latin America. We begin by outlining the policy change objective of this NGO-led policy advocacy endeavour, then discuss how evidence was generated and utilised in an attempt to shape policy debates, as well as eventual policy change outcomes.

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

This case study entails efforts by an NGO project, the DFID-funded Niños del Milenio project on childhood poverty, to shape policy debates and public attitudes regarding the impact of macro-level policies on (p.185) children’s well-being and the importance of investing in childcare and nurture in post-authoritarian Peru. The Peruvian political context in the first half of the first decade of the 2000s was exceedingly complex and dynamic, characterised by the end of the increasingly autocratic and divisive leadership of Alberto Fujimori and the emergence of a new constellation of political actors, including the election of the nation’s first indigenous president, Alejandro Toledo. The country faced a number of simultaneous challenges, including coming to terms with the recent bloody civil conflict, promoting good governance and the end of highly centralised government tendencies, and pursuing an economic growth agenda with equity. Accordingly, raising the visibility of largely neglected child well-being-related issues on the policy agenda would require creative efforts to highlight the linkages between macro-policy debates and children’s micro-level experiences if they were to secure any significant traction.

3D evidence generation on 3D child well-being

In order to build a compelling case for macro–micro policy linkages, the project sought to generate evidence on a number of key policy debates from a child-sensitive perspective, ranging from trade liberalisation to human rights and human capital development to political decentralisation. A diverse range of mixed-methods research approaches was employed, including: econometric simulations on the likely effects of the forthcoming free trade agreement (FTA) with the US on children’s time use; a child-focused content analysis of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation findings on human rights abuses during the 1980–2000 civil war; an impact evaluation of the country’s early child development programme, wawawasis; and regional reports drawing on secondary data and children’s testimonies on their multidimensional well-being to inform public debates leading up to the country’s first sub-national elections in 2006. In each case, respected experts carried out the analysis to lend the evidence much-needed legitimacy following a decade of research data being manipulated and overly politicised under Fujimori.

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.

(p.186) In terms of political context, like much of the rest of Latin America, Peru presents a paradox. While it has enjoyed uninterrupted democratic governance since the ousting of ex-President Fujimori in 2000, the country faces a growing social crisis marked by persistent poverty, high levels of inequality and relatively widespread dissatisfaction with democracy.5 Against this backdrop, knowledge interaction efforts, especially those focused on social issues with limited visibility on the political agenda such as children’s rights and child well-being, need to go beyond conventional advocacy approaches and be as innovative as possible. Accordingly, the Niños del Milenio project undertook a range of creative multimedia evidence-informed approaches to raise awareness among key policy and community-level audiences about the importance of integrating a child-sensitive lens into broader macro-policy debates. These included the development of videos with case study children, participatory digital storytelling initiatives to communicate children’s perspectives on poverty and vulnerability,6 national photo-journalist competitions and travelling photo exhibitions on children’s rights, training for journalists on child-related social policy issues, and community radio broadcasts (see Box 6.1 for further details).

In terms of actors and networks, given the generally weak evidence-based culture within Peru’s political circles and the limited presence of international donor agencies that could have played a monitoring and evaluation role vis-à-vis progress on rights-based issues, the media facilitated the communication of research-informed messages in a direct and visible way. The excesses of the Fujimori era, including high-level corruption, human rights abuses and an overly dominant executive (p.187) branch, exemplified by Fujimori’s closure of Congress, had resulted in strong civil society distrust of political institutions. As a result, in the first decade of the 2000s, civil society assumed a strong watchdog role and sought to enhance governmental accountability and transparency by strengthening citizen awareness of their rights. Within this context, and with increasing emphasis on the importance of having credible evidence to underpin policy decisions, the media evolved as a powerful policy actor (Mably, 2006).

A linchpin in this policy-influencing approach was the development of a culturally palatable and politically feasible policy narrative. As Tarrow (1994: 119) argues, collective action does not result from a simple conversion of objective socio-economic conditions into protest, but needs to be framed ‘around cultural symbols that are selectively chosen from a cultural tool chest’, and which resonate with broader discourses of ‘injustice’ employed by both domestic and international advocates of social change. The principal policy narrative the Niños del Milenio project focused on was the necessity of mainstreaming children’s rights to well-being, inclusion and care into macro-level policy debates so as to ensure that the traditionally voiceless were rendered visible on the policy stage. Discussion of childhood poverty is typically limited to sectoral policy debates around health, nutrition and education, but the Niños del Milenio project sought to reframe common assumptions about the underlying causes of children’s poverty and draw attention to the way that children are often as, or more profoundly, affected by macroeconomic and poverty-reduction policies. As Pais (2002) argues, the child mainstreaming agenda is an ambitious ‘one, seeking to involve government and non-governmental actors at international, national, and sub-national levels around the agendas of development, humanitarian aid, peace and security’.

In the Peruvian context, a key example of this mainstreaming approach involved efforts to highlight the potential impacts of trade liberalisation on child well-being and the importance of addressing the specific vulnerabilities of marginalised children in the context of any complementary social protection strategy. While economic simulations suggested that the much-contested FTA with the US7 would have an overall positive impact on Peruvian growth rates, welfare gains and losses were likely to be unequally distributed across the population and among different types of families (with or without children, male- or female-headed households, urban versus rural, and so on) (Escobal and Ponce, 2005). Changes in household poverty would in turn have uneven impacts on childhood well-being and, in particular, children in jungle, highland and rural households were likely to experience exacerbated (p.188) poverty due to increasing demand for their or their mother’s labour and/or falling household incomes (Escobal and Ponce, 2005). Whereas public debate in Peru has mainly focused on the likely negative impacts on particular sectors (e.g. producers of specific crops such as grain), Niños del Milenio’s policy briefs sought to set a new agenda that went beyond the polarised ‘pro- and contra-FTA’ agenda. Instead, the project argued for more careful social impact analyses of trade that disaggregated intra-household and intergenerational consequences (Vilar et al, 2006).

Another important strand of the Niños del Milenio mainstreaming policy narrative focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee process and efforts to raise awareness of the little-known experiences of children during the 1980–2000 political violence between the national army and the Maoist guerilla resistance group, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), in order to advocate for better child protection mechanisms. Child victims constituted 13% of the total 65, 000 fatalities, and poor children from rural areas in particular suffered from forced recruitment, sexual abuse, kidnappings, disappearances, extra-judicial executions, imprisonment and torture. The project synthesised key child-specific findings from the unabridged background report and disseminated these results widely, including through press releases and seminars with high-level officials, in order to highlight systemic problems such as child abuse and discrimination. In addition to drawing attention to the penetration strategies used by the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas to recruit new members in schools, the publication highlighted the ways racism and discrimination are expressed in the Peruvian educational system, creating resentment and reinforcing patterns of social exclusion.

Outcomes of a 3D approach

As discussed in Chapter 3, policy change can take a number of forms, from agenda-setting and procedural changes to substantive policy gains and behavioural shifts. In the case of the Niños del Milenio project, policy-influencing efforts contributed to a range of child well-being-related changes. Here we focus on three examples. First, as part of the project’s efforts to reframe the policy agenda to include children in mainstream political debates, staff cooperated with an umbrella research organisation, the Consortium for Social and Economic Research (CIES),8 to ensure that children’s issues were included as a key debate topic in regional and provincial elections and discussed on the basis of transparent evidence. In order to improve the quality of political debate and strengthen the capacities of regional journalists to engage (p.189) with political candidates on a range of policy topics, including those related to child-sensitive policies, the project team adopted an approach inspired by the Brazilian-based ANDI media for social change network. This involved collating region-specific data on children’s development indicators, developing policy briefings with policy recommendations to address child well-being deprivations and preparing companion question guides that journalists could use to shape their interviews with candidates. A number of public presentations with candidates from three regions (Arequipa, Piura and Cusco) were held in order to encourage candidates to think specifically about their positions on child-related policy issues. Moreover, because this initiative was part of a broader CIES undertaking, including nine other key policy areas, child-specific policy concerns were situated within broader discourses about the impacts of macroeconomic and political issues on families at the micro-level, problems of resource concentration in Lima and regional capitals, and inequalities among and within regions.

A second area of policy impact the project accomplished was contributing to a shift in community-level attitudes regarding childcare approaches through a community radio initiative. Drawing on insights from the project’s analytical work on child well-being, this advocacy programme facilitated access to research-based information aimed at improving the quality of the care environment for children living in impoverished communities. It sought to tackle social exclusion barriers by addressing the dearth of easily understood and applied information for low-income and often second-language speakers of Spanish by broadcasting short programmes about early child development and education and the availability of public services and social programmes in a context of poverty. The testimonies in Box 6.2 provide examples of the reactions of participants in focus group discussions organised to evaluate the first phase of the programme. Together they suggest that audio communication approaches that are integrated into people’s everyday lives can have an important impact on attitudinal and behavioural change.

The project’s contribution to substantive policy and budget changes was more limited, arguably because changes to policy agendas and discourse are likely to take time to contribute to concrete policy shifts. There was, however, one important exception, which highlights the importance of two key ingredients of policy influencing discussed in Chapter 3: the development of culturally resonant and politically feasible messages, and the importance of knowledge intermediaries in facilitating the uptake of new knowledge. In this case, the project’s video documentary on Peru’s wawawasi programme – a government- (p.190) subsidised community-run childcare programme in poor indigenous regions – highlighted the positive impact that a relatively inexpensive public policy initiative could have in terms of: (a) access and quality of childcare services; (b) facilitating mothers’ opportunities to enter the paid workforce without having to rely on older children (especially daughters) at the cost of the latter’s education; and (c) generating employment for some community women as the care providers at the wawawasi centres. By linking the need to improve children’s micro-level experience of care with broader macro-policy challenges surrounding poverty reduction and employment generation, the documentary proved instrumental in securing a 70% budget increase for the project from the Ministry of Economics. Whereas the project’s core funding at the time came from the Inter-American Development Bank, Programme Director Carmen Vasquez has pointed out that ‘the video provided an external view of the programme which strengthened arguments about its value internally and the importance of scaling up coverage. For us the video was decisive in our lobbying efforts with the Ministry of Economy and persuading the minister’s advisors’ (interview, 2004). Accordingly, as of 2005 the ministry began providing 100% of the project’s budget. This policy achievement was particularly significant, not only when contrasted with the fate of similar concurrent social programmes within the comparatively weak Ministry of Social Development and Women’s Affairs (a number of which were (p.191) discontinued or faced funding cuts), but also because it underscored the value of a less standardised and more regionally targeted policy design model.

6.6 Conclusions

Three general insights emerge from the discussion on child well-being, the regional overview of knowledge and policy processes and actors working on policy change to improve child well-being, and the empirical study of knowledge–policy interactions in one context in Latin America.

Policy ideas and narratives

In attempting to raise the visibility of ‘children’s rights’ and ‘childhood’ on the development agenda in diverse political contexts, it is critical to systematically unpack culturally specific understandings of the core cultural concepts with which a research project is engaging – for example, ‘childhood’, ‘family’, ‘work’ – and how these are subject to competing interpretations and reinterpretations in societies undergoing rapid social, political, economic and demographic transitions. It may also be the case that, rather than aiming to persuade others of the value of a specific interpretive lens, advocates could play more useful roles as facilitators, empowering local policy, civil society and media actors to develop their own frameworks to enable them to best make sense of their particular historico-cultural context. A key challenge would, of course, be how to best monitor the efficacy of such advocacy work, especially as the impacts are likely to be diffuse and non-immediate. A related concern may be that if we are to take seriously the challenge of embedding the concept of catalytic validity (i.e. valuing new knowledge on the basis of its potential for social transformation) in development research, then such guidelines may constitute a helpful starting point to encourage policy advocacy projects to think more systematically through dilemmas related to the line between direct policy influencing and supporting knowledge brokers and policy entrepreneurs to undertake a more evidence-informed knowledge intermediary role.

Policy actors and networks

Child-sensitive knowledge–policy initiatives need not be child-focused. An equally valuable approach may entail supporting actors already involved in influencing key development debates such as (p.192) trade liberalisation debates or the work of the human rights truth and reconciliation committee to embed a child-sensitive component in their broader work. This does not entail influencing actors so that they undertake analysis themselves on child well-being or engage with child-focused policy change efforts, but rather involves persuading them to provide a space where child well-being-related implications can be considered alongside their wider agenda. In the same vein, in attempting to raise the visibility of ‘children’s rights’ and ‘childhood’, it may also be the case that, rather than aiming to persuade others of the value of a specific interpretive lens, advocates could play more useful roles as facilitators. The focus would thus be on empowering local policy, civil society and media actors to develop their own culturally and context-appropriate frameworks. A key challenge would, of course, be how to best monitor the efficacy of such advocacy work, especially as the impacts are likely to be diffuse and non-immediate.

Context and institutions

Multimedia policy-influencing efforts can play an important role in contexts where there is deep distrust of political institutions, especially following an authoritarian government or conflict environment, as was the case in Peru. The case study therefore highlighted the way in which such efforts can shape substantive policy change and contribute to an array of other policy impacts ranging from agenda-setting to behavioural and attitudinal change. This more nuanced approach to policy impacts also serves to emphasise the cumulative, interactive relationship between different types of policy impact, suggesting that evidence-based advocacy approaches – particularly in complex transitional political contexts – necessitate a longer time horizon. This is especially important in developing countries, where civil society organisations, communities of practice and an independent media are often in their infancy and policy advocacy is still a new enterprise. The challenge is to build on agenda-setting and discursive and procedural change impacts in order to ensure that child-focused development policies are formulated and effectively implemented at the international, national and sub-national levels.


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

(p.193) (2) Community radio provides channels to promote cultural recognition and democratic participation for traditionally marginalised communities such as rural workers, indigenous groups and other ethnic minorities. For example, Colombia has around 460 community radio stations focusing on the effects of the internal armed conflict, public services provision and other topics of community interest.

(3) According to Reporters without Borders, seven journalists were killed in Central and South America in 2005. Five more lost their lives to their profession in 2006.

(4) McGann (2007) identifies 408 think tanks in Latin America, many of which emerged in the 1990s. In Argentina, for instance, 19 of the 28 think tanks surveyed by Uña et al (2010) were founded in the 1990s.

(5) Reflecting on the Latin American region as a whole, the UNDP has argued that the roots of democracy remain shallow, with low levels of trust in political institutions, including political parties. This is reflected in the fact that a majority of the population would sacrifice a democratic government in exchange for substantive social and economic progress (UNDP, 2005).

(6) Facilitated by the BBC World Service Trust as part of their global ‘Where will we be by 2015’ MDG project, the digital storytelling initiative involved supporting a group of children to share their daily life experiences by developing a photo-journal of their surroundings and daily routine. The photographic testimonies highlighted the importance children attach to safety (e.g. the need for safe road crossings, protection from muggers), a clean environment, siblings and time with their parents, and the significant role many of them play in meeting the basic livelihood needs of their families through paid and unpaid work. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/trust/2015/story/2004/06/040609_storiesfromperu.shtml

(7) The FTA was signed by both governments on 12 April 2006, and approved by the Peruvian Congress on 28 June 2006.

(8) CIES is an umbrella organisation with over 30 institutional members among Peruvian academic, research and governmental institutions, and NGOs.