The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is by nature progressive, to be built upon and scaled up. As 2015 draws close to an end, development experts globally are exploring new sets of goals. A more suitable approach may be tackling the challenges discovered and scaling up on MDG as it relatives to this issue. Challenges such as child poverty remains a major threat to achieving sustainable development post-2015.
The increase in child poverty has a direct impact on the number of children accessing the Universal Basic Education (UBE) where it is available. Without a doubt, there are many extensive intervention projects initiated to boast enrolment and attendance in Africa. However, for this post, I would like to narrow the focus to social protection as a means to support access to education and arrest the cycle of child poverty.
In 2004 when Nigeria adopted the UBE there was a high increase in the number of children accessing the UBE, in 2008, UNICEF reported a huge decline in these numbers. Between 2008 till date, Nigeria has witnessed high rate of poor children, engaging in child labour, hawking and begging on the streets. Like Nigeria, many African countries are stuck in this rut of vicious cycle. In Mali, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia, a lot of children have never been to school and those in attendance eventually drop out in pursuit of basic livelihood.
Nigeria’s out of school children is placed at 10.5 million. It is also reported that Nigeria has two million
more children than the entire Europe Union and majority of these children live in abject poverty. This alarming numbers is predicted to double in 2050, indicating a looming disaster, if the government fails to tackle these issues from a holistic standpoint.
The missing puzzle for Nigeria, like many uprising nations, remains, how can this gap be bridged to reduce child poverty and what practical and suitable interventions could make this a reality?
In 2012, the state government of Osun state, Nigeria, embarked on a free-school meal project to boast access to education. As at 2013, project fed 250,000 children every school day and required 15,000 whole chicken, 250,000 eggs, 35 cattles, and 400 tonnes of catfish weekly to feed school children in the state. All of these items were sourced locally within the state. This state independently funded project increased enrolment and attendance by 45% in the first two years. As a spiral effect, it induced local farmers’ empowerment and employment of 3,000 local women as cooker and servers across the state. In 2015, the government of Osun state considered stopping the project, as the state was struggling to cope with the financial demands of such project.
Recently at a strategy and assessment meeting with a local NGO I consult for, a similar challenge was obvious. Free school meals will increase attendance and enrolment, but who should pay for it? Lots Charity Foundation is an after-school club that uses food as incentives to draw children who cannot read and write in rural slums in the Apapa area of Lagos state. As is common with such projects, the common trend emerging is, poor children are susceptible to more than just lack of food, and the multi-dimension of such poverty is that, it is all inclusive; requiring a more holistic approach to achieving permanent milestones. In other words, after a while, well-fed children are going to require deworming, vaccination, multivitamins, school shoes and transportation to get to schools.
The trade-off of child poverty highlights the interconnected relationship between poverty-child labour; child labour-Education; and Education-poverty. As child poverty leads to child labour, education suffers but at the expensive of breaking the poverty cycle.
- Poverty: An indirect approach to arresting this cycle may be enabling poor households to ensure that children do not have to labour to feed. If there is anything African nations can learn from the failure of trickle-down economics is that, the poor need more than occasional good accident in order to escape the poverty trap. African countries are yet to grasp the idea of what equality means in reducing poverty. Fundamentally, such understanding results in the middle class and wealthy having access to more than the very poor and vulnerable when the reverse should be the case. This assumption is based on the observations of where and how revenues are allocated and for what projects in emerging nations.
The major reason why poor parents and care-takers enlist children to work is a lack of or not enough income per households. The suitable intervention here could be supporting and empowering very poor and vulnerable families to generate sustainable income. Further, such framework should include income transfer, vocational training, public work, and seed funding and scale-up. By so doing, targeted households could improve and sustain their livelihood. In turn, increase enrolment and attendance, reducing the amount of children that are susceptible to drop out of school in order to fend for themselves and their families. This approach may be more suitable in yielding long term results overtime.
- Child Labour: This is a more direct method and is likely to be more a rewarding and efficient model as demonstrated by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) of the ILO. However, this model requires supporting factors such as conducting and testing packages of frameworks for withdrawing and adjusting child labourers back into society, and preventing at-risk children from entering the child-labour force. This approach has the capacity to create community based child-labour monitoring structure to protect and prevent children from child labour. Additionally, for more efficiency, collaboration with informal educational system before transitioning the ex-child labourer into formal education system will ease the process.
- Education: Scaling up the MDG’s access to education should be priority in this regard as access to education has so far highlights accompanying challenges that hinder the process. Furthermore, the lack of quality education and healthy learning environment has seen private education become lucrative business in Africa. The problem with quality at a premium is that it is not affordable to the target group in this regard. As such, the African government should consider public-private partnership, subsidies and alternative revenue generation to support not just access to education, but quality education. These are just some examples of social interventions to tackle the unending cycle of child poverty. There are other methods of approaching this complicated issue.
The challenges of getting and keeping poor and most vulnerable children in school makes it evident that development has moved from handouts and access to quality and welfare in a more holistic way. Because, the nature of poverty is such that, the poor are more often than not driven by immediate needs as opposed to long term foresight. This is so because the ultimate human need for survival eventually always supersedes the need to invest, empower, and equip the poor for a better future. Getting more children into schools is no longer enough, keeping children in school and the quality of education should become the major focus in this regard.
In conclusion, as post 2015 draws to a close, development experts need to ask the right questions that addresses the impediment; what is the quality of these free education? Can these children read and write? Are there able to get to school? Do they have uniforms? Are there healthy and well-nourished? If free school meals and basic needs are to be adopted, who should pay for it?