British Transport Police’s public announcement, “see it, say it, sorted”, is a conspicuous safety and security message, frequently heard in all trains across the UK. The message poignantly drives the point that governments could transfer (share) responsibility from the top to local people at the end-user level in order to ensure good governance.
In this case, the strategy has been to seek people’s collaboration for keeping oneself and others safe, and the result has been that 98% of crimes committed across the network are being recorded, and then suitably acted upon by the police. This same principle of being aware and alert, reporting violations to suitable authority in charge, and working together for the merits of good governance could well fit the case about child friendly local governance.
Defining child friendly local governance
Child friendly governance is a strategic framework for governments at all levels, particularly local, to engage with the multiple dimensions of a child’s development. The aim is to ensure optimal levels of survival, development, protection and participation for every child, including the most vulnerable. It could also be seen as an approach to guarantee the universal rights of children, starting from -9 months to 18 years of age – namely right to life, health, nutrition, education, safe water, sanitation, protection from abuse and exploitation, and care including physical and socio-emotional well-being.
For these rights to be realised for children, the duty-bearers of these rights must firstly have a vision for children’s full development. They must know to plan, budget and monitor desired outcomes for children. They must be capable of making decisions with the best interest of children, and proactively engage with children on all matters concerning them. Progressively, such duty-bearers – be they elected representatives, officials, service-providers, teachers, doctors, parents, care-givers and civil society members – must also be willing to be held accountable for any lack of achievement of child development outcomes.
Certainly then, this would need a well-thought system by which goals are decided, policies are framed, administrative functions are allotted and child-centric action is guided, implemented and monitored in an institutionalised manner. All of this indicates that child friendly local governance (CFLG) may well be a complex but also a creative and comprehensive mechanism of processes and outcomes for children, that is managed by governments in shared responsibility with all citizens who are concerned about children. After all, why should this be compromised when child development is at the crux of human development, for now and the intergenerational future.
Challenges in shifting to decentralisation
Normally, administrative systems of governments are designed for centralised governance at the top level. For CFLG to be operationalised, institutions that serve children must be transferred to local authorities. Further, all human resource functionaries who are in charge of providing the services to children, be it in health, nutrition, education, protection, or care for the most vulnerable, must also be accountable at the local level for their day-to-day operations.
Last but not least, fiscal autonomy is a critical need at the local level and this means that there is adequate and predictable fund flow from the top and also scope for collecting and managing own funds at local level – for prioritising local spending based on local needs. Together, these are the 3Fs (functions, functionaries and funds) that make local governance operate smoothly. In contrast, challenges to devolve them to the local level hinder operationalisation.
Another key feature on the ground that makes CFLG work is the level of participation at the local level. This can be guided to an extent from the top by providing adequate space for independent action at the lowest level (autonomy); space for resolving issues then and there (subsidiarity); role-clarity and avoidance of duplication (complementarity); and promoting faith in the accountability and transparency of the administrative system. Ultimately, it is also in the receptiveness of local governments to manoeuvre the space, gear the mechanisms, and build partnerships for recognising and redressing the unmet needs of children from a human rights and equity approach. But, participation has the merit to ease more relevant collection of evidence, suitable and effective strategies, and implementation of prioritised action. Participatory reviews ensure that there is progress in child-friendliness and that the outcomes for every child are reached.
Often, the challenge in participation is in acceptance that children are full citizens, and that there is immense added value in bringing inclusive perspectives in matters concerning children. Deeper effort would be needed to push beyond tokenism. Inspiring initiatives are however available, despite different political settings of countries.
What should be seen, said and sorted
On a positive note, disaggregated data compilations and the thrust to achieve the sustainable development goals at local levels have amplified the pitch for leaving no child behind in terms of outcomes. Child development indicators – regarding reduction in infant and child mortality, school drop-out and child labour, child pregnancies and early marriage, prevention of abuse and violence against children, protection from substance-abuse and cyber-abuse, promotion of skill development and livelihoods – are all on the radar.
However, while data for these indicators may be generated from the local level, local governments are often not its custodians or users. This means that at-risk families and children who need timely attention fall through the cracks. Further, what is yet to be seen and spoken about is the social and emotional well-being of children and adolescents.
Given the tumultuous political and social climate everywhere, children and especially adolescent girls and boys in poor, distressed, dislocated and marginalised families, and worse still those in institutions of care, are acutely vulnerable to shocks. Their voices should be genuinely included in risk-informed policies and programmes. Children and young people have ample untapped potential to contribute to good governance. A well-orchestrated and qualitatively sound CFLG could well be a panacea for sorting inequity and promoting well-being now and for the years ahead.
Photo credit: Vicky Johnson (all rights reserved)
Akila Radhakrishnan has been an academic visitor at Institute of Development Studies – Sussex, and a Chevening Gurukul Fellow at Oxford University funded by the FCDO of the UK Government in 2022. She is a Social Policy Specialist on leave from UNICEF-India. While she can be reached at [email protected] , views and opinions expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the affiliated organisation(s).