Friday, 28 December 2012

Wikichild Blog Catch Up - 2012

Hi Everyone,

2012 has been an exciting year for Wikichild and we decided to wrap it up by blogging a selection of  child related articles from the last 12 months. Enjoy!

Rapid urbanization is leaving millions of disadvantaged children behind by guest blogger James Elder of UNICEF - March 5th

Kids in High Poverty Communities: 5 Ways it Affects us all by Laura Speer is the Associate Director for Policy Reform and Data at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore Maryland, USA - March 15th

“I am fighting for my future” by Hannah Chadwick - 19 June 

Early stimulation and micronutrients interventions: the next frontiers to break the cycle of child poverty by Christelle Chapoy, 3ie International Initiative for Impact Evaluation - 13  July 

The Child Development Index 2012 by Alex Cobham, Save the Children - 19 July 

The Global Whole Child by Sean Slade, ASCD the Whole Child - August

A Kony 2012 for Syria??? by Hannah Chadwick - 19 August 

Education for All - A Focus on Nutrition by Robbie Lawrence, Wikichild Coordinator - 1st November

The threat of inequality to children by Robbie Lawrence - 20 November 

Thank you to all who have followed us in 2012 and stay tuned for a diverse and interesting range of Child Well-being blogs in the new year. 

Robbie Lawrence 
Wikichild Coordinator 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Week in Review

Welcome to a very special edition of the Week in Review, this is not only the last Week in Review for 2012, but also the last time I will be writing the Week in Review (sniff sniff). Please continue to send media highlights and news and information to or update the Community Portal yourself. 

Highlights from the progress movement this week include: a collection of 2012 reviews, happiness challenges, person of the year, a ban on female genital mutilation and a quote.

Photo by JG Clemenceau

Leading progress thinker Jeff Sachs blogs for the Huffington Post in response to a claim from the American Enterprise Institute that social spending lowers happiness. Referencing key progress indices he argues that this claim is false as countries that have higher spending on social programs are by far the happiest.

Progress is social, economic, political and personal. TIME person of the year reflects the progress of an individual and their impact on society. This year, US President Barack Obama made TIME person of the year- with Malala Yousafzai, Tim Cook, Mohamed Morsi and Fabiola Gianotti making the shortlist. In 2011, the Protester won person (or people) of the year, and in 2010 it was Mark Zuckerberg. Interestingly, Barak Obama was also the 2008 person of the year.

Yesterday the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is estimated that FGM affects about 100-140 million women and girls worldwide, and each year.
"Equity, dignity, happiness, sustainability – these are all fundamental to our lives but absent in the GDP."
Helen Clark, UNDP, speaking at Rio+20 as the UNDP reveal a new template for a Sustainable Human Development Index. 

That’s all from me. Thank you to everyone who has read my weekly posts (and to the Wikiprogress team for picking up my typos). Wishing you all the very best for a peaceful and prosperous 2013.

Yours in Progress,

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Made to Measure: Why One Size Won’t Fit All

The recent OECD World Forum in Delhi showcased the plethora of approaches now underway to go beyond GDP and measure what matters.   The growth in popularity of these indicator initiatives is undeniable: the number of projects ratchets up after each world forum.  But while there has been a growth in activity, I don’t see as much growth in the maturity of the conversation about the indicators. 

Photo from Wikipedia

Far too much time is still being invested in discussions around how to measure, far too little in what to do with the measures once you get them (and what to do with the measures is the subject for a future post).  Moreover, I’m increasingly convinced that the questions around the how to measure? are much less important than we statisticians think they are.  

One type of indicator will never suit all purposes, and we’d be much better turning our minds to promoting the use of our new indicators for appropriate decision making, rather than searching for ever greater statistical perfection.

Take the debate around the merits of a composite indicator of progress (an average of other measures) versus a set of indicators for example. Few issues are likely to get a group of statisticians as hot under the collar.  

Many government statisticians feel about composite indicator much like the Taliban look on miniskirts.  They express abhorrence but are fascinated by what lies beneath.

Any composite indicator requires its component parts to be weighted together, which in turn requires judgments on the relative weights of each component. And such judgments are often difficult to make on statistical grounds alone. Now this is a genuinely important statistical issue, but I’d argue it is given way too much prominence when we consider how that composite indicator is going to be used.  Most composite indicators are not, and should never be, used directly to guide decision makers.  

If policies were set explicitly to achieve a certain value of a composite indicator for instance, we’d have to be very sure we had the weights right.  In reality composite indicators are meant to raise awareness, reframe debate and challenge a prevailing mindset. They might not be useful to design a policy, but they are great at summarizing a complicated set of data. Take the Human Development Index for example. It has never claimed to be anything other than a fairly crude measure of development. It doesn’t claim to have perfect weights, nor does it pretend to measure everything that matters.  Yet it is a practical tool that is relatively easy for all countries to produce and for users to interpret.  And it is this simplicity that has allowed it to challenge the hegemony of GDP and so help the world to realize that development is not synonymous with growth.

Likewise, those who support composite indicators do not always see the value in a set of indicators. 
How can you communicate a simple story about change with 15 or 20 indicators?” they ask.  “You can’t.” is the honest answer.  
But you can use a set of indicators to encourage decision makers to look at policy through a broader well-being lens, rather than one focused only on achieving growth. 

A well-crafted set of indicators can help promote whole of government and cross-silo decision making, and highlight the interface between the economic, social and environmental spheres, and make trade-offs and synergies more explicit.

Different approaches and different indicators are neither better nor worse than each other.  They are all made to measure, but one size will not fit all purposes.  We will make quicker progress when we accept this, and start paying more attention to what those purposes are, and how to ensure all this information is turned into action.

Jon Hall

Human Development Report Office, UNDP

Monday, 17 December 2012

Giving Children A Voice

Image taken from 'Out in the Cold' ©Save the Children

The Syrian conflict has now entered its 21st month and is showing few signs of abating. Over the course of this period between 40,000 and 55,000 Syrians have been killed and about 1.2 million people are said to be displaced.

The violence has been universal, afflicting all parts of the country's population, but one of the most striking features of this civil war has been brutality enacted on children. Thousands of children have died in attacks and many more have been injured, traumatised and driven from their homes.

Save the Children has followed the conflict closely; having published a number of timely reports the charity, like UNICEF, has set up an appeal to protect Syria's children and provide them with food, shelter and emotional support.

Save the Children's most recent report 'Out in the Cold, Syria's Children Left Unprotected' documents the appalling winter conditions facing child refugees who have dispersed across the Middle East, attempting to find refuge in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Sub-zero temperatures have already hit the region and “startling low levels of aid” (Out in the Cold, page 14)  mean that children will have to endure this winter without enough support. According to Justin Forsyth, the chief executive of the STR, world leaders must act quickly:

“[the] international community needs to match its diplomatic and security concerns with funding to help children. Unless there is a surge in funding, thousands of children are going to spend a bitter winter without proper shelter from the cold, and many will become sick as a result.”

One only has to look at Andrea Bruce's devastating photo essay published earlier this year by The New York Times to understand the truly horrendous effects that cold can have. Bruce's haunting, Caravaggio like pictures tell the story of Lailuma, an Afgan mother living with her family in a refugee camp outside Kabul who lost nine of her children over the course of the winter.

'Out in the Cold' follows a similar structure to Save the Children's previous report 'Untold Atrocities,The Stories of Syria's Children' in that the majority of its contents is made up of first person accounts of the deteriorating situation for refugees. Among the testimonies are stories of children huddling three to a blanket, sleeping in makeshift shelters made of billboards and falling sick as temperatures plunge in the region. One such story comes from 11 year old Ali, who has been living in an abandoned school in northern Lebanon for close to two years:

“I need clothes to wear... My parents dont have money, they dont have anything. Who should I ask for clothes from? I'm not happy at all. We would love to go back to Syria.”

A feature of these reports is that they break from what might be seen as a more traditional style of research based dissemination. Instead, they aim to allow the emotive force of the featured children's stories to emphasise the need for changes to be made. This is certainly not a new form of reporting; organisations from past and present have released similar reports and campaigns, however, it seems that these groups are increasingly using children's voices to deliver their message in a bid to inform policy making. Aside from STR, UNICEF has dedicated a section of their overall mission statement to the VOICE's of children, the UN followed up on its MACHEL Strategic Review by publishing a compilation of the views and recommendations of some 1,700 young people from 92 countries to raise awareness about the issues facing children in armed conflict and Defence for Children International has released a number of publications voicing the issues faced by Palestinian's in East Jerusalem.

It is arguable that in highly politicized humanitarian crises like the one in Syria or nearby Palestine, the simplicity of a child's story transcends the debate over who is in the wrong and forces us to remember that innocent humans are suffering. There will of course be those who criticize such reports, arguing that they only provide a limited perspective on complex situations. However, it seems that if a one sided report is going to be effective - using first person child accounts to drive an argument may be a less fallible method than others as children are unlikely to approach their testimonies with a strong political leaning. Save the Children's Syrian reports are undoubtedly subjective, they have an agenda, but the stories coming out of them are far from politicized, they do not point fingers, they only speak of the confusion and terror felt by children who cannot comprehend the violence going on around them. At a time when we are bombarded with information on a daily basis, 'Out in the Cold' and the reports that have preceded it offer a concise, easily accessible and striking message that forces us to view the Syrian conflict through the lens of those who most need rescuing from it. 

Robbie Lawrence
Wikichild Coordinator

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Week in Review

Hi All,

In putting together this Week in Review, almost the last for the year, I came across a very well presented year in review from the United Nations. Other highlights from this week include big data, rethinking climate change and unemployment. 

Big Data’s International Influence (The Atlantic 10.12.2012)
Can simple text messages alert a team halfway around the world that there may be a disease outbreak in the remote Sub-Saharan region? Could mobile payments help predict a possible coming food shortage? The short answer is yes, the technology has been available for years, only recently has it been developed to harness big data and used to develop early warning systems. 

Youth Call for ‘Change of Course’ to Solve Climate Crisis (All Africa 12.12.2012)
As talks on climate change wrapped up in Doha last week, new voices are calling for a change in mindset, in the global response to climate change. Rethinking climate change is not just about the environment, it’s about also about the entire economic system. We need a global paradigm shift. 

Number Crunch:
200 million people worldwide are unemployed, and another 1.5 billion – or half the global working population – are in vulnerable or insecure jobs. SourceThat’s all for this week. We look forward to you joining us next week for the last week of review in 2012.

Yours in Progress,

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Great strides made on well-being in Wales

I’m possibly being a bit premature, but still, the festive period is just around the corner and it’s traditional to look back at the achievements of the last year.  And since I’m in a thoughtful mood, why not celebrate how the well-being agenda in Wales has come on a great deal in the four and a half years since I started leading this particular project.

When I began as the coordinator for the Wellbeing Wales Network, I spent my time working with a small group of interested individuals and organisations from the voluntary sector.  We wanted to capture and understand the ‘unintended consequences’ of the sector’s work, which was delivering countless benefits to their client group, but was invariably being measured on just a small part of their overall efforts.  A lot of our collective activity was being assessed in terms of process, with aims and targets being the language of success.  

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I was on the end of polite yet blank looks when I tried to discuss with people how wellbeing could complement such activity.

But things have moved on.  I’m now in the fantastic position where I can see support for wellbeing in every sector in Wales; where talking about wellbeing doesn’t generate the puzzled looks of the past and early adopters are putting wellbeing at the heart of their organisation’s activities.

It’s more of the same message for the last twelve months.  The Welsh Government has started to operationalize the commitments of 1998 green paper, Better Health, Better Wales.  Recent examples include wellbeing very much at the heart of a proposed Sustainable Development Bill, the draft Social Services and Wellbeing Bill and most recently in the development of a national outcomes framework for Social Services in Wales.

The last eighteen months has also seen a shift within the public sector and partners to move away from processes to outcomes. The adoption by many of Results Based Accountability complements the interest in promoting wellbeing by providing the right tool for the job. 

For a start, plain language discussions become easier where different organisations with different ways of working recognize that increased population wellbeing could be the über-outcome they could all sign up to.  The RBA approach also helps identify what’s missing, including the right data and the right partners to get the job done.

And here comes the cautionary sting in the tail.  In the future, more emphasis is going to have to be placed on the authenticity behind organisations and activities that claim to promote wellbeing.  Wellbeing shouldn’t be another bandwagon that others rush to jump on without making any significant changes to how they work.  These are challenging times with many problems facing society, with fewer and fewer resources available at national and local government level to tackle them. This means less money and fewer people available to do the job.  So the right decisions need to be taken on how these resources can be used to best effect.  

That means the lessons learned from the Office of National Statistics, Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales and others need to be somehow focused at the core of organisational planning, so that everyone understands wellbeing and even the laggards sign up.

Dafydd Thomas

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Times are tough: how is Canada doing?

This year, our findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing

The Honourables Monique Bégin and Roy J. Romanow, Co-Chairs, Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) Advisory Board

We’re living in a time of uncertainty. Dominant political institutions are stumbling, long revered pollsters now have difficulty predicting election outcomes and despite sagging voter turnout, those still casting their ballot seem open to considering alternative options. Everywhere pundits are scrambling to understand why. We ask the question: Could it be governments and political parties are not truly responding to the needs and values of everyday citizens?

With the release of our second composite index report, the CIW has found the 2008 recession hit Canadians harder than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers revealed and the decline in our wellbeing continues despite subsequent economic recovery. From 1994 to 2010, Canada’s GDP grew by a large 28.9 per cent, while improvements in Canadian wellbeing over the same 17-year period saw only a small 5.7 per cent increase. Yet still, wellbeing is largely gauged by GDP measurements alone, presuming economic growth equals a better quality of life for citizens.

CIW draws from a deep well of data using 64 separate indicators within eight inter-connected domains central to the lives of Canadians: Community Vitality; Democratic Engagement; Education; Environment; Healthy Populations; Leisure and Culture; Living Standards; and Time Use. When partnered with GDP, the CIW provides more comprehensive data to help decision makers better assess the impact of policies and programs. This year, our findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in our overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered, our wellbeing took a disproportionate step backward.

Deterioration in the environment, and in living standards indicators such as job quality and economic security, soaring long-term unemployment and persistent income inequality speak to the growing unease felt coast to coast. Wealth creation has not been fairly distributed and, as a result, everyday Canadian families are falling behind. It is important to bear this all in mind as governments contemplate approval of pipelines, changes to pension policy, or new international trade deals. We believe the benchmark in any decision must be: Will it improve the actual wellbeing of citizens?

Despite these difficult times, the CIW has uncovered a few beacons of hope that offer further insight into the needs and values of everyday Canadians. Despite the recession, Canadians continue to report an increased sense of belonging to our communities. More than 80 per cent volunteer to help others. Violent crime is at its lowest level since 1994, having dropped every year since 2001. Property crime, also at its lowest level, is down 48 per cent since 1994. And the percentage of Canadians who feel safe walking after dark is at its highest level. Given the focus on balancing budgets, the CIW asks if the needs of Canadians are really being met by government plans to spend more in this area?

The CIW has also found that citizens are stepping up when it comes to the environment. Canada is still creating one of the biggest ecological footprints in the world, but only six per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions came from Canadian households in 2010 and despite an increased population, total household emissions are in decline. In contrast, more than 60 per cent of the contribution comes from transportation, fossil fuel industries, and electricity production and it continues to grow. Considering respiratory diseases related to air pollutants account for a significant number of all hospital visits, adding to our overburdened health care system, and the fact that climate change is expected to have a serious detrimental impact on the global economy, action must be taken. Citizens have proven they are willing to do their part but clearly there is a need for governments and industry to do the same. 

History shows Canadians share a legacy of coming together during hard times to build a stronger foundation for a vibrant future. As the world continues to struggle from the 2008 recession, we believe this same legacy holds the key to our collective recovery and growth. Measuring the wellbeing of citizens is paramount to any government or political party determined to lead a country through these difficult times.

Read our complete findings at:

Friday, 7 December 2012

Four Iraqi women highlight the challenges they face in a documentary

One year after the official end of the war in Iraq, the country is still in a state of turmoil. Operation Iraqi Freedom may officially be over but violence has escalated and women’s rights continue to be marginalised.

Forty years ago Iraqi women and men were equal under the law. Since the early 1990s however, women have seen their rights curtailed and their participation in areas of society and freedom of expression dramatically inhibited. There has been a sharp decline in female literacy, women are discriminated against in the law by giving men privileged status in divorce and inheritance matters, and ‘public morality’ campaigns have specifically targeted women. Women who take part in public roles and have a voice in civil society, such as politicians, civil servants and journalists, have been threatened, beaten and sexually assaulted. Women are finding it more and more difficult to go out alone and, in addition to that, many women suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives. For example, a survey by the UN found that 68% of young Iraqi men surveyed believe it’s acceptable to kill a girl for ‘profaning a family’s honour.’

Four women who are graduates of Women for Women International’s year-long holistic training programme, (which includes practical classes in life, business, and vocational skills), recently made a short documentary film to tell their stories and share their perspectives one year after the withdrawal of the troops.

“We wanted to make this film because we want our voices to be heard. Iraqi women are strong and they need to know that they have rights and that they can use them to make their lives and those of their families better," says Nihayet, a graduate of the Women for Women International programme, and assistant camera operator.

The film titled “Hands of Hope” explores how women are overcoming the challenges they face, to lead change in their families and communities.

“Our economic difficulties were the greatest challenge we faced,” says Zainab. “But I was able to overcome them because of what I learned during the Women for Women International programme.”

Zainab, an Iraqi mother of three was facing financial hardship as her husband’s low wages were barely enough to cover their family’s basic needs. The business training Zainab took part in allowed her to learn a vocational skill, earn an income from tailoring and have greater influence in family and community decision-making. Now Zainab has started her own sewing business and is able to regularly put money aside to save for the future. 

Women for Women International hears all too often how women survivors of war feel they are forgotten, that their voices are not heard, and that their perspectives are not valued. Zainab, Nihayet and their fellow film makers challenge the stereotype of passive victim, to share their stories of survival with you directly. Watch and share their message now.

Women for Women International is launching an urgent appeal for donations to meet the demand for the year long vocational programme in Iraq and the seven other countries where we work. Between 25 November and 10 December all donations made to Women for Women International will be matched pound for pound by a generous group of supporters. This means that all gifts will go twice as far to support the many women who are rebuilding their lives after conflict and war. Go to to find out more.  

Week in Review

We are glad to share a few headlines with you after another busy and eventful week. This week, highlights include: corruption, terrorism, volunteerism and a video interview with Nic Marks.

Transparency International released the 2012 edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index on Wednesday. The index scores 176 countries with high levels of corruption, scored at 100 to low levels of corruption scored at 0. The index shows that two thirds of the countries ranked scored below 50, meaning they are significantly corrupt. 
See 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index

The Institute for Economics and Peace released the inaugural Global Terrorism Index this week that ranks 158 countries according to the impact of terrorism. The research shows that since the Iraq invasion, the number of terrorist incidents have increased by over 460%, however the number of deaths caused by terrorism has decreased. 
See Global Terrorism Index

Are terrorism and corruption related?
Corruption Perceptions Index
Global Terrorism Index
North Korea

*  the country suffering the most from corruption or suffering the largest impact from terrorism

On Wednesday, the world celebrated the International Day of the Volunteer. Wikis rely on volunteers to create and share information. According to Internet guru Clay Shirky, a wiki is a hybrid of tool and a community. On behalf of this Wiki family (Wikiprogress, Wikigender and Wikichild) we would like to thank every one who have taken time to write, edit, create and share information.

Number Crunch
If volunteers were a nation they would be the 10th largest country in the world. That's 140 million volunteers.

16% of people worldwide volunteer their time for an organisation

Nic Marks
Nic Marks is a key progress thinker and one of the champions of the well-being movement. In this interview he talks about the need for a system where the economy serves human well-being, not the other way around.

Yours in Progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Striking at the root of corruption in India

Cleansing political parties and elections of illegal money is the first step towards tackling the evil of graft 

Corruption is nothing but a reflection of the distribution of power within societies. The country is where it is because the political system is self-perpetrating and no party is accountable to anyone except a coterie of people that dominates all decisions. Unless the political system is accountable, going after individual cases of corruption will achieve little.

Slew of anti-corruption bills

By making a single point demand for a Jan Lokpal in India, to the exclusion of all else, Anna Hazare’s agitation became circumscribed by its own rhetoric. Expectedly, the Indian government response was a slew of anti-corruption bills that have been introduced in Parliament, unheard of in the annals of the past six decades. From 2010, in a span of just two years, as many as 10 anti-corruption bills have been tabled including the disputed Lokpal bill, the forfeiture of benami property, foreign bribery, money laundering, and whistle-blowing bills plus five more — all aimed at deterring specific acts of corruption or purporting to give corruption-free public service as a right. And it was not just the Central government that showed this eagerness. Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha have actually enacted laws which can result in the attachment of ill-gotten property of public servants — sometimes pending investigation.

Undeniably, the citizenry will applaud such measures, frustrated and angry as people are about corruption. But wittingly or unwittingly, this response has deflected attention from a much larger issue. None of the bills or laws addresses the fountainhead of corruption — the opaque management of political parties which includes the source and deployment of their funds.

The second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC 2009) underscored the large-scale criminalisation of politics, illustrating how the participation by criminals in the electoral process was “the soft underbelly of the Indian political system” leading to “the flagrant violation of laws, poor quality of services, protection from lawbreakers on political, group, class, communal or caste grounds, partisan interference in the investigation of crimes, the poor prosecution of cases, inordinate delays that last for years, high costs of the judicial process, mass withdrawal of cases and indiscriminate grant of parole.”

What is of great importance is the open admission that votes are in fact secured through large, illegal and illegitimate expenditure on elections. This has been termed as the starting point of corruption making cleansing elections the most important route to bringing principles into politics. The Lokpal brouhaha has deflected attention from issues infinitely more important for going after dishonest politics, which seems to be all-pervasive.

And the context matters too. Much of India lives in as unequal a world — comparable in fact to pre-industrial Britain. Feudal mindsets prevail and the exercise of patronage is expected. In addition, in India, money power can control decisions the voter makes. Bound by the mores of a largely agrarian way of life, the poor remain simultaneously protected and penalised not by the law and the police as much as by feudal lords, often having criminal records. Indian political parties had long used these local sardars and strongmen as trusted allies for defeating opponents. But the latter have moved up in life by increasingly joining the political fray as candidates — not just supporters, and they have joined to win.

According to the Annual Report of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), among 543 elected Members of Parliament who were elected in the 2009 election, 162 (30 per cent) had criminal cases pending. Five years earlier, that figure was 24 per cent. Meanwhile, the votes needed to win a seat have fallen to as low as 15 per cent. Criminal elements that once pulled in votes for party candidates are now getting voted to power themselves, gaining social respectability and public esteem in the bargain. Meanwhile, campaign-spending limits being easy to flout, buying the voter is easily managed.

More worrisome than individual corruption is the widespread concern that funds are collected by political parties and parked in secret bank accounts abroad to be ploughed back to finance elections often by hook or by crook. Since fund management is confined to a handful of people in each party, it gives enormous power to the top leadership which controls the deployment of funds and all that accompanies it. When the choice of candidates is intrinsically linked with money power, quid pro quos, and IOUs, clean candidates without money or political pedigree do not stand a ghost of a chance. And it goes without saying that once illegal and illegitimate expenditure is incurred on winning elections, there can be no prospect of honest dealings thereafter.

In the OECD countries with which we frequently draw comparisons, three qualities on a scale of eight, considered the most important attributes required from members of the political executive are objectivity, impartiality and neutrality. In those countries, a Minister is expected to publicly commit himself to observing ethical principles if he is to set an example to public servants.
In India, talk of ethical conduct is laughed at; civil servants take their cue from the standards of probity they are witness to — superiors in the service and their political bosses. Until political parties field clean candidates and promote and reward them, a climate of ethical dealings simply cannot emerge.

Expecting the clean up to come only by reinforcing anti-corruption laws though necessary, will divert attention from the real issue of corruption — how political parties collect funds and give tickets. The only way this can change is by educating voters on the dynamics behind the power play. Simply put, it means having knowledge about the origin of party funds to provide insights into the interests that back a political party. Equally how such contributions might influence future policies —including the future outlook for using public funds and natural resources.

It should come as no surprise that when ADR sought information on political party funding, using RTI, all political parties with the exception of the CPI (M) responded that they were not bound to provide such information. This, when income tax exemptions worth hundreds of crores of rupees, land and accommodation at nominal rates, and free airtime, are all provided at public cost. A full bench of the Central Information Commission (CIC) met in September to take a view on this. But major political parties shied away.

The key issue

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely that the sources of party funding would be declared in the foreseeable future. But that is the key to understanding the compulsions of political parties and the decisions they make. One way of overcoming the clandestine collection of election funds would be to introduce state funding of elections as so many countries have done. More importantly there is a need for laws that mandate transparency in the deployment of political party funds coupled with rules that democratise inner party functioning. Unless the monopoly that a small clique that holds the reins of power in almost every party is freed, new blood can never transfuse into the political arena.

A Bill called the Registration and Regulation of Political Parties (2011) has been drafted by a committee chaired by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India. The bill includes a democratic process for selecting party office-bearers as well as those given the ticket. It talks of limits on donations by individuals and corporations, suggests penalties for non-compliance and addresses the vexed question of how to deal with support groups that spend money that remains unaccounted for in the candidates’ election expenses.

It is legislation like this that the country needs. Much more than a Lokpal. It is only when political parties become answerable that clean candidates will emerge. Then alone might the use of public funds for private gain halt. 

(A former civil servant, Shailaja Chandra is the Vice President of Initiatives for Change-Centre for Governance, a think tank that supports social reform.)

This text first appeared as a lead article in the Edit page of The Hindu newspaper (printed version) on 27 November 2012

Monday, 3 December 2012

Uncounted sexual violence

“We could scream but no one will hear us, they cover our mouths and threaten us.”
Unnamed child, Colombia

When we consider that 75 to 95 percent of rapes are never reported to the police in England , it will come as no surprise that we know very little about the full extent of sexual violence committed in conflict and post-conflict settings, let alone how many survivors of sexual violence in conflict are children. While many of these crimes go unreported and unpublished – a horrific example of the “uncounted,” for which this blog is named – we know enough to be able to say that incidents of rape and sexual abuse during conflict and instability are pervasive in countries from all regions of the world and that children often make up a significant number of survivors of sexual violence, and sometimes the majority.
A rape victim with a children’scounsellor - South Kivu, easternDRC - Hidden Survivors 
The following snapshots – outlined in our new briefing Hidden Survivors launched today – offer some indication of the prevalence and scope of the problem:
  • During the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire between 1 November 2010 and 30 September 2011, children made up 51.7% of cases of sexual violence. In more than half of the cases of sexual violence against children, the survivors were below 15 years of age.
  • In 2008 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations Population Fund recorded nearly 16,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls. Of those instances, 65% involved children, mostly adolescent girls
  • In 2006, the Lancet published research estimating that nearly one-fifth of girls were raped in the greater Port-au-Prince areas during the armed rebellion between February 2004 and December 2005

While there is ample evidence of sexual violence against women and girls, there is little systematic documentation of the existence of or impact of sexual violence on men and boys. The evidence that does exist, however, points to a serious – if under-reported – problem. In the DRC it has been estimated that men and boys make up 4-10% of survivors of sexual violence who seek treatment. In Afghanistan, the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and others have repeatedly brought attention to the sexual abuse of boys. There have also been reports of sexual violence against boys as well as girls in the current conflict in Syria.

Given the extent of the scourge of sexual violence in conflict and its impact on children we welcome the UK Government and William Hague’s personal commitment to placing this issue at the top of the agenda for the UK’s Presidency of the G8 next year. This week a group of around 60 experts on the issue of sexual violence in conflict from around the world gathered at Wilton Park to help the Foreign Office develop and shape this important initiative.

While the appearance of Angelina Jolie was the only aspect of the conference that captured media attention, there was much that was encouraging about the discussions at Wilton Park from a children’s rights perspective. William Hague recognised in the opening statements of his speech that children make up 50% of the survivors of sexual violence in DRC, for example. And the Minister of Gender and Development from Liberia spoke at length about the appalling impact of sexual violence in homes in post-conflict Liberia on children, pushing the issue beyond the confines of “rape as a weapon of war” and into a broader set of familiar development concerns such as grinding poverty, breakdown of social norms, and lack of respect for women’s rights.

We do have lingering concerns that the UK Government’s initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict will – ironically, given the name – not go far enough towards prevention of sexual violence and instead focus on a narrow element of reducing impunity: that of increasing international prosecutions. Using international prosecutions to send a message at the highest levels that sexual violence in conflict will not go unpunished is an important part of the story, but it is only part.

So how do we lessen the extent to which survivors – and especially child survivors – of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings that go uncounted (both as part of ensuring that those affected by these crimes receive the support and services they require but also as part of challenging the culture of impunity)? How do we prevent pervasive sexual violence from taking root in conflict and post-conflict settings in the first place?

Counting is a big part of the story. We have the tools to gather the data and monitor incidents of sexual violence, and other grave violations of children’s rights, but the relevant bodies within the UN and beyond often lack the funding and political support to fully exploit the potential of their mandates, as the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict explained during her talk at Save the Children on Friday November 16th.

And we know that where there are no age-appropriate services for health or psychological care, where judicial systems are not designed to meet the needs of children, and where societies do not recognise the particular vulnerabilities that children face, reporting of abuse and exploitation of children will remain low. These systems and services will need funding from donors in many cases. And supporting governments to introduce and strengthen age- and sex- disaggregated data collection will need to be part of the response.

Increased funding, and a better understanding of how funding is currently allocated is also vital. Protective sectors like child protection and education – which play an important role in preventing children from being subject to sexual violence in the first place, as well as an important part of a the response mechanism for children who do survive violent abuse – for example, were the two worst-funded humanitarian sectors in 2009 – only 32% of requirements were met and many projects within that were only partially funded. Beyond these figures, we don’t actually know how much was spent on programmes that specifically aim to tackle sexual violence in conflict – so disaggregated data on funding for child-focused sexual violence programmes also needs to be publically available.

Sexual violence is one of the most shocking crimes committed during conflict. It happens all over the world – from Afghanistan to Colombia to Somalia – and its consequences linger long after the fighting has stopped. But it is not inevitable. And our shock and horror at the thought of children suffering these crimes should not mean they go uncounted.

Alison Holder

This article was first published on UncountedThis blog is about inequality and development and those who are uncounted. It is written and maintained by Alex Cobham, Save the Children's Head of Research. Uncounted aims to stimulate debate but is not a reflection of official Save the Children policy