Evidence for Action Blog
Giving girls a chance
Mounting evidence from systematic reviews, such as these on early childbearing and HIV risk, suggest that cash transfers have positive impacts on youth transitions into adulthood. Yet, data illustrating how these programs affect outcomes is generally scarce. Now new research from the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published in Social Science & Medicine, recently presents evidence of these impacts, suggesting that unconditional cash transfer programs targeting orphans and vulnerable children may significantly reduce the likelihood of early pregnancy. Most cash transfer programs in Africa are unconditional, leaving the decision on how to spend the cash with the beneficiaries. These decisions, in turn, can play a key role in determining the magnitude of impacts on the household. National statistics report that approximately 32% of Kenyan women aged 25 to 49 were married by age 18 and 14.5% of 15 to 19-year-old girls had given birth to at least one child. Researchers studied whether the Government of Kenya’s main anti-poverty program: Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, had potential beneficial effects on adolescent girls, in particular if there was an impact on early pregnancy and marriage. While the primary objective of the Kenya cash transfer program is poverty alleviation, it appears to make an important contribution to the successful transition of young women into adulthood. At the time of the study, in 2011, the Kenya cash transfer program benefitted nearly 280,000 orphans and vulnerable children in 135,000 households – it has more than doubled in coverage since that time. By design, the program provides a monthly stipend of approximately $21 intended to represent 20% of monthly total household expenditures. While the cash transfers were unconditional, beneficiaries were provided a message during enrollment that they were expected to use the money for the care and development of the orphans and vulnerable children that lived in the household. As a way to encourage self-sustainability and, ultimately, independence from the program, once the children turn 18, they are no longer eligible to receive benefits. The research found that the program reduces the probability of early pregnancy for young women aged 12 to 24, who had never given birth, by 5 percentage points (34% decrease). The researchers attributed this effect partially to increased enrollment and attainment of young women in school, increased financial security as well as a delay in sexual debut. Notably, the largest impact was among the group of most disadvantaged girls (those not enrolled in school). Essentially, the cash transfer program kept vulnerable girls and young women in school longer and delayed their engagement in sexual activity, thereby reducing their chances for early pregnancy. Although the study found no impacts on early marriage, the authors believe that the study was not designed to identify impacts, since adolescent girls who migrated out of households due to marriage, as is custom in Kenya, were not tracked. Therefore, while the findings on early pregnancy are significant, the researchers suggest that follow-up studies are necessary to more adequately gauge the dynamics of how cash transfers can impact outcomes, including: focusing in on the link between marriage (including those already married), fertility and adolescence for girls who move out of study households; learning more about the behavior of boys vis-à-vis their female counterparts; and understanding complementary strategies that can improve reproductive health and life trajectories for young women which can be bundled with cash transfers. What directions are suggested by this study? Given that Kenya’s cash transfer for orphans and vulnerable children program is similar in design to other cash transfer programs in Eastern and Southern Africa, there is considerable scope to magnify these effects with proper targeting and messaging from policymakers, program designers and other relevant stakeholders. Michelle Mills is based at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti For further research on the impact of cash transfers on youth transitions, see: The Government of Kenya’s Cash Transfer Program Reduces the Risk of Sexual Debut among Young People Age 15-25 and Child-focused state cash transfers and adolescent risk of HIV infection in South Africa: a propensity-score-matched case-control study. Click here to learn more about Transfer Project research and evaluations. Stay tuned for further results from ongoing government-run unconditional cash transfer evaluations and impacts on adolescents in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
25 years of research on child rights at Ospedale degli Innocenti
UNICEF is well known for its role in responding to complex humanitarian crises affecting children around the world. The work of the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, based at the 600-year-old Ospedale degli Innocenti, in Florence, Italy rarely hits world headlines. Yet over the quarter century of its existence UNICEF at Innocenti has produced ground-breaking analytical work which has informed action and shifted global development discourse on critical child rights issues. In order to mark its 25th Anniversary, the Office recently convened a special anniversary seminar to reflect on achievements and look toward future directions for research at Innocenti. In its historic Renaissance surroundings former directors and senior researchers, together with a constellation of local and national Italian partners, shared their experiences and insights. On behalf of the Italian Government, the Office’s most generous financial donor, Luca Zelioli, First Counsellor, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered opening remarks. Jim Grant, Former UNICEF Executive Director and Jim Himes, first Director of UNICEF's International Child Development Centre in front of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, Italy (Circa 1988) Inaugurated in 1988 as the UNICEF International Child Development Centre, with a broad mandate to contribute to an “emerging global ethic for children,” research quickly became a defining mission and the institution’s name soon evolved to Innocenti Research Centre, and finally to the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. “When we moved here these were turbulent years, the Berlin Wall was falling, adjustment in Africa was not working so there was a lost decade in Africa and Latin America and there was a big debate on how to finance health, education and nutrition in developing countries,” recalled Giovanni Andrea Cornia, UNICEF’s first Chief of Socio-Economic Policy at Innocenti (1989 – 1995). During years of global economic recession Innocenti produced a succession of important studies in Africa and Latin America which provided an evidence base for UNICEF’s global call for “adjustment with a human face.” Following ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a range of research projects at Innocenti contributed significantly in shaping UNICEF’s adoption of the human rights-based approach to development. Innocenti pioneered much early work on child protection. Numerous studies focused on what were deemed “emerging issues” in the 1990’s such as child trafficking, children in conflict with the law and child labour. Research on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child conducted at Innocenti allowed UNICEF to explore aspects of children’s development which were considered sensitive or taboo subjects in various cultural and national contexts. According to Nigel Cantwell, child protection expert and former senior officer (1998–2003), Innocenti has explored themes leading the global discourse on children’s issues, often producing work which pushed a range of sensitive child rights issues into the mainstream of global programming and service delivery. “Juvenile justice is an area where there is often a total lack of understanding as to what actually works in terms of preventing and responding to offending by young people,” said Cantwell. “Juvenile justice has become more integrated into UNICEF programming, and I think that Innocenti helped to pave the way for it to gradually move out of the sensitive issue area.” Sarah Cook (L) Director of the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti introducing a panel of former Innocenti Directors and Senior Researchers, (L_R) Mehr Khan-Williamson, Nigel Cantwell, Giovanni Andrea Cornia and Gordon Alexander at the UNICEF Innocenti 25th Anniversary Seminar in Florence, Italy. Panellists highlighted the important benefits of a UNICEF research centre located apart from headquarters, empowered to pursue an independent research agenda. Gordon Alexander, recently retired Director (2010–2013) pointed out Innocenti’s unique ability to take a long-term, multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge on children. “There are very few places in the world where research for children in all its dimensions actually comes together. I think that is something that is very special to Innocenti.” In recent years, Innocenti has played a leading role in improving social and economic policy for vulnerable children in both poor and rich countries. The Innocenti Report Card series, based on league tables which compare child well-being among OECD nations, has risen in prominence to become one of UNICEF’s most visible flagship publications. Through the Report Card, Innocenti has expanded substantive advocacy for vulnerable children in the developed world with UNICEF’s network of National Committees. Mehr Khan-Williamson, former Innocenti Director (1998–2000), reflected on the challenges she faced initiating the series. “Starting the Report Cards was not easy…these were Board Members, they were donor countries and we are an inter-governmental organization and not much can be said to those who are also feeding you. But the issues were essential and they had to be dealt with.” Reflecting on the emergence of Innocenti’s current incarnation, Gordon Alexander recalled how the Executive Board defined its current mission. “UNICEF has always been right at the heart of research, in many areas. It was a tremendous user and a convener of research and occasionally it did brilliant pieces of research. But there was never a permanent home for research, and that is what gave rise to the idea of linking the work of Innocenti with the more global approach.” Today at Innocenti UNICEF plays a critical evidence gathering and knowledge building role on a wide range of cutting-edge children’s issues. It is a leading centre on impact evaluation of cash transfers. It coordinates multi-country research on the drivers of violence affecting children. It plays a central role in adolescent well-being, child rights and the internet, child rights implementation, family and parenting support policy and multi-dimensional child poverty analysis. A special 25th Anniversary e-publication “Children and Research at Innocenti: 25 years of UNICEF Commitment” was formally launched in both English and Italian at the Seminar. It is an invaluable small volume for anyone seeking the story of how UNICEF’s presence at Innocenti emerged and evolved over the last 25 years. Follow me on Twitter: @dalerutstein
Are we failing adolescents?
Almost half of all women in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are married before eighteen. Globally, adolescents are two times more likely to be out of school than primary school aged children. Nearly eight million 15-24-year-olds in Europe are not in education, employment or training. Is it time to ask the question: “Are we failing adolescents?” The 2012 Lancet Series on adolescent health highlighted the links between “structural determinants” – national wealth, inequality and education systems – and adolescent outcomes. At the same time, growing awareness of the links between social determinants – beliefs, attitudes and cultural norms – and adolescent wellbeing has not always been accompanied by sufficient understanding of how or when to intervene. If we are not intentionally failing adolescents we may well be failing to look at the issues and vulnerabilities facing them in the right way. Can we end child marriage simply by increasing the legal age for marriage? Can we expect to address youth unemployment by encouraging job training? Adolescence is intensive, often bringing on work, sexual debut, marriage and parenthood. Does this interaction sound familiar? Researcher: “What is the right age for marriage?” Mother: “At age eighteen. That’s the law.” Researcher: “When did your own daughter get married?” Mother: “I think she was thirteen or fourteen.” Researcher: “Why didn’t you allow her to stay in school?” Mother: “Then she would never find a husband.” Newly arrived unaccompanied minors from South Sudan wait as they undergo registration in Kule camp, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1545/OseThe very notion of adolescence is fuzzy. Is it a function of age, social convention, puberty? Some cultures may not even recognize it as a distinct life stage. As a result, public programmes and support services are often weak and disjointed. The development community is coming around to the notion that quick fixes for assuring adolescents’ safe transition to adulthood are elusive. But, there is a dearth of evidence-based approaches that consider all dimensions. This is partly because we still have not learned how the different and dynamic elements in a young person’s life interact. What is needed is a fundamental re-think of efforts to support adolescent health and well-being based on sound analysis of how structural realities – school systems, social norms, livelihoods – play out. Narrowing the focus on adolescent girls, the new edition of the Innocenti’s Research Watch debate brings together top experts from Oxford University, the Population Council and the Lancet Commission, to drill down into the bedrock assumptions and structures which underpin often inadequate efforts to protect them. The resulting 20-minute web-video moderated by BBC’s David Eades is a must see for anyone seeking deeper insight, based on the latest research and inquiry, into the cultural and structural determinants of adolescent well-being. As with all editions of Research Watch, global researchers have contributed written commentaries on critical emerging issues. The latest edition’s commentaries address: the adolescent brain, working with boys to close the gender gap, adolescence and poverty, adolescent girl’s migration, new findings on adolescence from cohort research and much more. Last year the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti initiated a global research partnership funded by DFID, the Italian Government and others to research the structural and social determinants of adolescent well-being in low and middle-income countries. Initially, the partnership will focus on Ethiopia, Malawi, Italy, Peru, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Key partners include Addis Ababa University, International Centre for Research on Women, Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, University of Edinburgh – Child Protection Research Centre, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, University of Oxford, Young Lives – International Longitudinal Study on Child Poverty, and others. Follow me on twitter: @dalerutstein
Supporting families and parents in a rapidly changing world
In China about 100 million children have parents who migrate away from home in search of employment. Some of these children accompany their parents, usually from a rural village to a strange new urban world. Most of these children – about 60 million of them – remain at home, supported and cared for by grandparents, neighbours or friends. In China, and across the globe, traditional notions of family and parenting are long gone. Family can no longer be defined as the biological nuclear family or even by relation through kinship. What we can say is that family is one’s most significant intimate group, defined by kinship, marriage, adoption or choice. In a similar way, the term ‘parents’ can no longer refer to biological or legal parents, or, indeed, even to parents, but to the main caregiver of the child. In many rural Chinese villages elder couples can be found “parenting” 8 to 10 neighbourhood children for months or years at a stretch. Nondumiso (9) reads a school assignment beside her grandmother, in their home in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. © UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0594/Pirozzi However they are defined, families and parents play the most significant role in all aspects of child wellbeing. They are increasingly becoming a focus for innovation and policy development within and across countries. How are policies and services targeting the support of families and parents adapting? What are the most urgent gaps in evidence about family and parenting realities? In order to coordinate global efforts among leading researchers and institutions addressing these issues, the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, has recently launched: Family and Parenting Support: Policy and Provision in a Global Context. The publication contains a systematic analysis of evidence generated in 33 countries and detailed case studies of family and parenting support in nine countries: Belarus, Chile, China, Croatia, Jamaica, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. The goal is to identify global trends and develop a framework for future research and policy analysis. Full report Some of the key challenges to effective parenting support interventions highlighted in the report are: Mothers and female caregivers are the main recipients of both family and parenting support, implying the ‘feminisation’ of parenting programmes, which may reinforce traditional gender roles. Some efforts are being made to engage fathers through various programmes, but the concept of shared parenting seems to be under-developed. Programmes for the parents of adolescents are under-developed, despite evidence that they can play a key role in improving school performance, reducing risky behavior and more. Interventions for parents of adolescents seem to be especially rare in low and middle-income countries. Across the board, there is a major lack of evidence on the impact of services oriented towards family and parenting, especially in lower and middle-income countries. Major takeaways from the study: public support for families and parenting is an increasingly complex business, should be more context sensitive and better linked to other policies and programmes which concern child wellbeing. We need to move beyond approaches to family and parenting that identify a single outcome at one point in time, in favour of approaches taking into account different moments in children’s growth and development in dynamic family contexts. The new study helps identify key gaps which will be the focus of research in the next few years, such as understanding what factors promote positive parenting of adolescents and measuring impact of programmes that seek to help parents of adolescent children reduce risky behavior and prevent violence. Follow me on Twitter: @dalerutstein
Evidence from Africa shows cash transfers increase school enrollment
An estimated 63 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 are currently out of school, according to a recent report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and UNICEF. This is a staggering number, and the barriers to school enrolment--poverty, conflict, gender discrimination, and child labour--are not easy to overcome. However, researchers are helping to identify what works in social protection to increase secondary school enrolment in Africa, particularly among the poorest, rural households – groups that were highlighted as having the greatest need in the new report. One tool in a national government’s arsenal of social protection strategies is cash transfer programmes, where households receive cash benefits on a monthly basis. Cash transfer programmes have increased secondary enrolment rates, between 5 to 12 percentage points in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia. Most cash transfer programmes in Africa are unconditional. Further, evidence shows that these programmes have the ability to encourage out-of-school students to return. There are several ways that cash transfers might increase school enrolment for children. First, increased income in the short term through cash transfers might allow households to pay for school fees, uniforms, other supplies, and transportation. Second, they might alleviate the need for children to work, therefore allowing them to attend school. Finally, they might alter household members’ outlook on the future and decisions to invest in their children’s schooling. Increased schooling will not only allow adolescents to gain better jobs and break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, but it also has protective effects against violence and HIV/AIDS. One study found that a one-year increase in schooling decreased the probability of an adult woman testing positive for HIV by 6 percentage points in Malawi and 3 percentage points in Uganda. Women and men with more education report later sexual debut and are more likely to use condoms once they do have sex, behaviours that reduce HIV risk. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study in ten countries and found that women with a secondary education (or those whose partners had a secondary education) were less likely to report having experienced intimate partner violence. Impacts of cash transfers in Africa are summarized in a brief released this week by the Transfer Project: a research partnership which aims to provide evidence through rigorous impact evaluations in an effort to allow national governments to better design and implement social transfer programmes. Researchers are currently evaluating social cash transfer programmes in a number of African countries, looking at education, and other non-traditional impact areas such as economic activity, livelihoods and resilience, HIV prevention, violence, early childhood development, intra-household decision-making, mental health, subjective welfare and time preference. Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All released by UNESCO and UNICEF highlighted many challenges to reducing the number of out-of-school adolescents, and noted that the most marginalized children are often those who are poor, disabled, in conflict zones, or are female. Social cash transfer programmes in Africa target several of these vulnerable populations and have shown promising impacts among the poorest households and those with other vulnerabilities, like disabled caregivers or households caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Increased investments and commitment to these social protection programmes are important steps in addressing the barriers identified above. Tia Palermo is Social Policy Specialist in the Social & Economic Policy Section at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where she conducts research with the Transfer Project. The Transfer Project is working to provide rigorous evidence on programme impacts in an effort to inform future programme design and scale-up. For more information on the Transfer Project’s research on cash transfers, we invite you to read our research briefs here.
Multidimensional Child Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa
A new working paper called 'Analysing child poverty and deprivation in sub-Saharan Africa' has been published by the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti. The paper uses a framework called 'MODA' designed to measure multidimensional poverty specifically for children within and across countries. We caught up with Sudhanshu Handa, Chief of Social and Economic Policy at the UNICEF Office of Research to learn about the paper’s new findings and the strategy behind its unique analysis. Can you tell us what MODA is in simple terms? MODA stands for “multiple overlapping deprivation analysis.” The MODA methodology has been developed to more accurately define and measure child poverty both at a national and international level, taking into consideration the complex, multifaceted realities of poverty which children experience at different stages of their lives. What are the major new things we have learned with this paper on sub-Saharan Africa? This is the first study to quantify the number and depth of multi-dimensional child poverty in sub-Saharan Africa using data on individual children. In the 30 countries for which comparable data are available, 86 per cent of children below age 18 suffer from at least one deprivation, and even more serious, 23 per cent of children suffer from 4 or 5 deprivations simultaneously—approximately 87m children. These are the first such estimates for sub-Saharan Africa. How will this push policy and service provision forward? The cross-country analysis in this paper is aimed at understanding the overall picture of child deprivations and their distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, in part to signal to the global development community the extent of the problem. Nevertheless, even this cross-country comparative analysis holds some interesting policy implications. Can you give a specific example? For example, while nutrition deprivation rates are about the same in urban and rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the overlap between nutrition and other deprivations is significantly higher in rural areas. In other words, nutrition deprivation in urban areas is often a stand-alone problem, and better addressed through a sector approach. In rural areas, on the other hand, a multi-sector approach to addressing malnutrition is likely to be a more cost-effective approach. The second key finding with policy implications is the fact that country child poverty rankings differ depending on whether one uses monetary or multi-dimensional child poverty as the yardstick. This highlights the need to go beyond simple monetary measures when assessing child well-being. How will this help governments in sub-Saharan Africa to address child poverty going forward? The multidimensional approach allows governments to pinpoint exactly which specific deprivations - health, nutrition, water, housing - are most critical for children. And by looking at overlaps among dimensions, governments can assess whether a sector or multi-sector approach would be more cost-effective in addressing child poverty. Finally, the study highlights the important difference between monetary versus deprivation approaches to measuring child poverty. For children, knowing the exact deprivations they suffer allows precise identification of interventions that will directly address child suffering. Multidimensional poverty analysis is not new. How is MODA new or different? Most poverty scholars and practitioners have heard of the Multidimensional Poverty Index or MPI, a popular measure of poverty that goes beyond income to look at deprivations in domains such as water, housing, education, and health. Well, MODA can be viewed as the child version of the MPI. The indicators that go into MODA are selected for their relevance for child well-being, and are measured for children, not for households as is done in the MPI. This is a key distinction and the main innovation of MODA. Consequently, it allows us to measure child deprivation directly. Because the tool measures deprivations for each individual child, it enables us to also observe children with multiple deprivations—extremely important from an equity standpoint. This is the second major innovation of MODA. How will it improve policy for fighting child poverty? Note that non-income components of well-being are arguably much more important for children, which makes the development of this tool that much more essential for tackling child poverty. First, household income is not under the control of children, so there is no guarantee that just because a household has sufficient income that children get what they need to thrive. And many items that enter into a multidimensional index such as clean water or nutrition have long lasting effects on child development. For children, these things are the ultimate objective of development—not income. Thus, the deprivation approach is more relevant for children than it is for households. MODA allows us to measure these deprivations among children themselves. How would MODA help programmes be more effective? This tool can inform programmes in two ways. First, by accurately assessing deprivations, it allows countries to identify the most important deprivations facing children—this would inform decisions about what to focus on (which sectors to prioritize). Second, by measuring multiple overlapping deprivations, the tool allows governments to identify who to focus on—the most deprived, or those with the most rights violations, which is consistent with the Human Rights Based Approach to Programming (HRBAP). MODA is thus fully consistent with the HRBAP which is the core guiding principle for UNICEF’s work. Can you give a simple example of how policymakers might use this new information? For example, in Mali the highest rates of child deprivation are found in Tombouctou and Kidal, regions which do not have the highest monetary poverty rates. Hence, the tool shows us where to start in order to combat child deprivation directly. The Mali analysis also shows that for children age 0-23 months the highest single deprivation is nutrition. For children age 5-14 years, on the other hand, the highest single deprivation is child labour. These clearly direct us to the sectors that need to be addressed to tackle age-specific child deprivation. A student cleans a chalkboard at a school in Bamako, Mali. ©UNICEF/MLIA2012-00887/Bindra Tell us more about the MODA tool. Why was it developed? MODA is a tool developed by UNICEF’s Office of Research - Innocenti, with support from the Division of Policy and Strategy, to enhance the equity focus of child poverty and deprivation analyses around the world. It is a contribution to global efforts to generate quality evidence on child poverty and disparities. It recognises that a child's experience of deprivations is multi-faceted and interrelated, and that such multiple, overlapping deprivations are more likely to occur, and with greater adverse effects, in more socio-economically disadvantaged groups. How is MODA different from other methods of measuring multidimensional poverty? MODA builds on UNICEF's Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), and other research carried out in the field of multidimensional poverty. It has several features that we can say distinguish it from most existing analytical frameworks. As mentioned, it selects the child as the unit of analysis, rather than the household, since children experience poverty differently from adults especially with regards to developmental needs. Of course, it uses a life-cycle approach that reflects the different needs of early childhood, primary childhood and adolescence. It also measures monetary poverty and multidimensional deprivations simultaneously for each child whenever the data used has information on both. Finally, it helps to force the development world and governments away from the typical “silo” approach. When we can generate better pictures of how multiple deprivations affect individual children, it becomes much clearer how and where different actors must work together to defeat multidimensional child poverty. A series of briefs on how the cross-country component of MODA was used to produce the new paper on child deprivations in sub-Saharan Africa is available for those who want to drill down further. You can also access the online portal for MODA here: http://www.unicef-irc.org/MODA/
Impact evaluations reap long term benefits for children
We have an obligation to invest where it makes the most difference for children. But how do we decide what will reap the greatest benefits in the long term? The dilemma of whether to invest in services that provide immediate benefits, or in evidence generating initiatives for the long term, is a difficult one. The answer requires a careful analysis of the cost of not addressing immediate needs versus the potential future benefits of policy and budgetary change brought about by research and advocacy. As countries climb up the GDP ladder, UNICEF’s assistance is less critical for basic service delivery. Increasingly, what decision makers from low and middle income countries seek is knowledge and evidence for the design of their own programmes and policies. Investment in sound data, research, and evaluation is an essential component of guiding important decisions for years – and perhaps generations – to come. The Impact Evaluation Series of methodological briefs and instructional videos just released by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, is a contribution to building a “culture of research” at UNICEF and strengthening our capacity to provide evidence-based advice to partners. The series covers a range of impact evaluation designs and methods, including randomized controlled trials (RCTs). It discusses their pros and cons, ethical concerns and practical issues. The series is primarily aimed at UNICEF programme staff but is also available to the public. How often do we in UNICEF conduct rigorous impact evaluations and invest in evidence for the long term? What are some of the benefits when we do? The Transfer Project is an example of how UNICEF’s investment in research contributes to evidence-based advice which motivates and empowers governments to effectively support children. This multi-country project runs experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluations in sub-Saharan Africa, repeatedly providing evidence to governments about the positive effects of social cash transfers on children and their families. The methodological design of choice is RCT, often considered the ‘gold standard’ of impact evaluation. It provides powerful responses to questions of causality by proving that an impact is achieved as a result of a specific intervention (e.g. the cash transfer) and nothing else. In Zambia for example, an RCT conducted in three districts from 2010 to 2013 showed that the government’s cash transfer programme led to a wide range of health and nutrition benefits. It also contributed to an increase in productive activity, and ownership of livestock. Encouraged by this evidence, the Government of Zambia boosted its budget allocation for the transfer programme from US$3.5 million in 2013 to 30 million in 2014, with larger amounts expected in the coming years as the programme expands. The overall cost of the evaluation of US$5m will ultimately leverage US$150m for children over the next five years. Similarly in Kenya, the evaluation of the government’s cash transfer for orphans and vulnerable children programme showed impacts on consumption, diet diversity and secondary school enrolment. It was an important part of the dialogue on the scale-up of the programme which now reaches over 160,000 families. The government’s own contribution to the program increased from less than US$1m in 2006 to US$12.5m in 2013. The evaluation itself cost US$2m and leveraged an increase in US$10m from the treasury for the programme, securing benefits for children for years to come. RCTs can be costly. They require a large sample size and cannot be undertaken retrospectively. The random assignment they require can sometimes be perceived as unethical or politically sensitive and in such cases other options, such as quasi-, or non-experimental designs for evaluating impact need to be considered. The new Impact Evaluation Series briefs outline different options for conducting an impact evaluation, are written in accessible language, and use examples from UNICEF’s own work. They are accompanied by animated videos particularly useful to impact evaluation novices or for training purposes. The overarching aim of these tools is to contribute to building UNICEF’s capacity in research and evaluation, improving our ability to provide evidence-based, strategic guidance on children for the long term. The materials were written by international evaluation experts from RMIT University, BetterEvaluation and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). An advisory board comprised of UNICEF staff from the Evaluation Office, Data & Analytics section, the Programme Division and many Country and Regional Office guided the quality and relevance of the work. We hope that the materials will contribute to more UNICEF-supported, high-quality impact evaluations, and to more evidence-based decision-making by our partners. Sudhanshu (Ashu) Handa is Chief of Social Policy & Economic Analysis, at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti and a Principal Investigator on the Transfer Project. Nikola Balvin is Knowledge Management Specialist at the Office of Research – Innocenti and was responsible for coordinating the Impact Evaluation Series.
Best of UNICEF Research 2014
UNICEF staff are so preoccupied with the increasingly complex task of assisting the most vulnerable children that they don’t often realize the extent and quality of research their offices and programmes throughout the world carry out. UNICEF is actually a major global research organization with hundreds of research projects carried out each year to underpin its programmes, policy and advocacy work. Its work addresses new and emerging development challenges, and advances knowledge on children with relevance often well beyond the local country context. In order to showcase the best of all UNICEF research efforts, the Office of Research-Innocenti undertakes an annual selection process carried out across the organization: in country and regional offices, at headquarters divisions and National Committees. This year 79 entries were officially submitted and a total of 65 met the publicized acceptance standard developed for the process. The range of themes covered and geographic representation among the finalists was impressive. Following a rigorous internal review process twelve finalist entries were shortlisted for special recognition from a very strong group of submissions. Summaries of these twelve research studies have now been published by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, and are officially part of its catalogue. These 12 finalists were further reviewed by an independent panel of experts who are familiar with UNICEF research but do not work for the organization. They highlighted the finalists below: the first two for their potential for impact, two for policy relevance, and the last two for merit and policy relevance at the country level. Here they are described in the words of the external assessors: The Adolescent girls vulnerability index (Uganda): “Its strength is in the pioneering of the development of an adolescent girls’ vulnerability index and the potential for it to be replicated across countries and allow for an objective comparison measure.” Zambia: Social Cash Transfer 24 Month Impact Report: “This innovative piece of research evaluating a non-conditional cash transfer scheme was carried out with a well-developed conceptual framework, presenting complex, insightful and policy-relevant findings in an engaging and articulate manner.” Preventing Exclusion from the child support grant (South Africa): “The study uses a strong design and has the potential to be replicated in other settings to identify factors that influence social assistance exclusion.” Effects of the Palestinian National Cash Transfer Programme on children and adolescents: “A major strength is the mixed methods approach starting with quantitative data contrasting intervention and comparison groups followed by qualitative data using purposive selection and participatory approaches.” Effect of Iron Deficiency Anaemia in pregnancy on child mental development in Rural China: “This very focused study - published in the journal Paediatrics - takes a longitudinal observational approach to explore the effect of iron deficiency anaemia among mothers on cognitive and mental development of their children.” Policy Impact Analysis: Additional support to students from vulnerable groups in Pre-university education (Serbia): “In many ways, this is a bold and path-breaking piece, and highly relevant within Serbia’s current political and social policy agendas. The study combines a mix of very detailed mapping of institutional initiatives within the country and comparative analysis of evidence of education reform in OECD countries applied to the Serbian context.” You can find the complete Best of UNICEF Research 2014 publication with summaries of the 12 shortlisted works here, on the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti website, with links to the full research papers.
Children of the Recession – The “Great Leap Backward”
Just over six years since the sudden collapse of Lehman Brothers, the global economic crisis still makes news throughout the world. The impact on households goes beyond headlines. Hardly any family has not felt the pain of the Great Recession. Children of course experience it most acutely. They are also at greatest risk of suffering lasting damage from it. Lasting damage could well be the dominant theme of the new Innocenti Report Card “Children of the Recession: The impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries.” The Innocenti Report Card is the one UNICEF flagship publication devoted to children in the developed world. This Report Card does not deliver many passing grades. It offers a sobering look at how child poverty has changed compared to fixed 2008 levels, introducing a more sensitive measure of how children have fared since that critical point. There is real concern that widening poverty gaps, young people not in education, employment or training and staggering declines in years of income progress are causing long term structural changes that will set children back significantly in the developed world. In 23 out of 41 countries child poverty has increased. In a number of countries the increases were sizable, especially in the Mediterranean region. In 18 countries child poverty declined, but these are mostly the smaller economies in the group, with a notable exception being Germany. Unusual, even for the Innocenti Report Card series, is a special section ranking US States’ changes in child poverty. There are some surprising results. US economic stimulus worked fairly well and most likely prevented large numbers of children from falling into poverty. In some traditionally poorer States like Mississippi and West Virginia, child poverty improved, while going up significantly in Idaho and Nevada. Smaller increases in some larger states masked sizable numbers of newly poor children such as in California (221,000) and Florida (183,000). A major takeaway from Report Card 12 is that the economic crisis has been a recession about children. The most telling data confirming this is the Report’s look at how different vulnerable groups were affected. In 28 out of 31 European countries the poverty rate has increased more rapidly (or has decreased more slowly) for the young than for the elderly. Not surprisingly, youth employment has taken a huge hit across the developed world. The more frightening news has to do with “NEETs,” or, 15 to 24 year olds not in education, employment or training. NEET rates stayed the same or rose in 35 out of the 41 countries in the report. “Great Leap Backward” is a telling way to sum up the impact of the recession on children. This really hits hard when you read how many years of lost income progress many OECD countries have sustained. Between 2008 and 2012, Greek families lost the equivalent of 14 years of progress; Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain lost a full decade; and four other nations lost almost as much.
Climate change – why a children’s rights perspective matters
Climate change is not only about weather. Climate change is about people, their rights and future. A truly global challenge of our time. The world is struggling with huge problems like poverty eradication, conflict and discrimination. The majority of people living on Earth still lack decent conditions of life and protection of their fundamental rights. How can climate change matter? How can the rights of future generations become a priority? Perhaps there will always be challenges considered more immediate. But what if we start interpreting climate change as a global phenomenon of inter-generational justice? Action, or better, inaction, becomes a form of injustice which feeds on and perpetuates inequality, and forces those who are least responsible to pay the highest price: in decades to come. Future generations will have no choice but to swallow whole the injustices of current generations towards them. Climate change should be forcing us to balance the rights and claims of persons living today against those of persons in the future. The ethical construct of inter-generational justice could help us find answers for some of the most pressing questions about governance of resources, the rights of children and environmental sustainability. The new report The Challenges of Climate Change: Children on the Front Line published by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, contains an illuminating discussion which could help us approach the defining issue of our times. Climate change challenges children’s rights by threatening their fundamental condition: our planet. Human action is putting a strain on planetary boundaries, without being able to predict with certainty the final consequences for the generations yet unborn. In a world where the world itself is at risk, perhaps inter-generational justice is an idea whose time has come. Forecasts do not allow any reasonable prediction beyond 2100. Sceptics may say that it is too far in the future for concern today. From a children’s rights perspective; however, minimizing that degree of uncertainty is the ultimate reason for struggling every day for their full recognition and realization. Children are the largest and most vulnerable group to the effects of climate change. Join in the conversation on climate change and its impact children, on social media with #right2Bcool. Experts say that more than 80 percent of climate-related deaths in developing countries are among children. Most of their rights are threatened every time a new disaster occurs. Putting in place child-centred mitigation and adaptation measures is certainly a good way of responding, but taking a child rights point of view also implies broadening the perspective from the immediate present to the distant future. There is also another good reason to frame climate change as a child rights issue. If we accept the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s assertion that children are holders of rights, we must accept that children become partners of critical importance in understanding and acting on climate change issues in their communities and in coping with its challenges. They can be actors for global change in the way we treat our environment, manage resources and set the foundations for future human society. Children and young people today constitute the generation that will be required to deliver the very deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that will be essential in the coming decades. Yet they are a constituency that has been effectively ignored when it comes to high-level climate discussions. Patrizia Faustini is a Senior Communication Assistant, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti
Cash transfers in Africa – generating evidence on the impact
The Great Recession of 2008 prompted many traditional donor countries to cut back foreign aid budgets. Pressure from lawmakers is now greater than ever for aid dollars to go further, and for development programmes to prove that aid is linked to tangible changes in the lives of children in the poorest regions of the world. Well, it turns out that one of the most effective of all ways of changing the lives of the poor could be handing out cash. That’s right. For a long time now the development world has been looking into the benefits of various methods of simply giving the poorest families cash. One theory is that rather than investing large amounts in costly and wasteful State bureaucracies, delivering small amounts of cash to materially deprived households could be a much more efficient and flexible way to provide aid directly where it is needed most. Now, especially in Africa, data is piling up which may prove the theory right. The UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti is currently supporting an in-depth, long term research partnership to scientifically measure the impact of cash transfer programmes across a wide stretch of sub-Saharan Africa. Using rigorous impact evaluation standards, hard evidence is mounting up that tiny monthly cash transfers can bring about significant improvements for children, especially in the most remote rural communities where services are limited or non-existent. Here is a fascinating table showing the impact of the Zambian Government’s Child Support Grant programme – a US$12/month unconditional payment targeting households with young children in Zambia’s three poorest districts. In key indicators of material poverty, early child development, income generation and agricultural productivity, significant, tangible improvements were found to be related to cash transfers, not other factors. Zambia is one of 13 countries involved in the Transfer Project impact evaluation in sub-Saharan Africa. There are now at least 30 social protection programmes in this region based on long term application of cash transfer strategies. And in 19 of them there are rigorous evaluations of the impact on the most vulnerable children underway. When current impact evaluations are complete the world may well look to Africa to find the most up-to-date research on the possible impact of cash transfers. Having first emerged in Latin America in the 1990’s, cash transfer programmes in Africa are now sparking important social gains in food security, school attendance and promotion of young people’s safe transition to adulthood. One impact assessment of the Child Support Grant in South Africa has shown statistically significant associations between receipt of the grant and adolescents reduced sexual activity, reduced pregnancy and reduced alcohol and drug use. Research findings on cash transfers are beginning to spark talk of the development “silver bullet.” Sudhanshu Handa, social policy expert with the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, recently took part in a Washington DC debate titled “Cash Transfers: The New Benchmark for Foreign Aid?” where questions such as “When are cash transfers better than traditional aid?” and “Should aid be benchmarked against the cost effectiveness of cash transfers?” were thrashed out. In a period of austerity cost effectiveness of development aid is more critical than ever. The development community can now look to Africa for hard-nosed evidence on the impact of cash transfers.
EU youth: not in employment, education or training
7.5 million young people aged 15-24 — roughly the total population of Switzerland — were not in employment, education or training (referred to as 'NEET') across the European Union in 2013. In Greece alone it was one in five, nearly a quarter of a million young people. The UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti will later this year release Report Card #12: Impact of the Great Recession on children in rich countries presenting among other topics a wealth of information on how a generation of young people is slipping further and further away from the kind of productive adulthood taken for granted by their parents. The Great Recession hit young people extremely hard, with the NEET rate shooting up dramatically in most EU countries (Figure 1). The largest absolute increases were recorded in Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Romania. At the same time, the US saw the largest increase in the NEET rate across the OECD countries that are not in the EU. Figure 1: Not in education, employment or training (NEET), 15-24, in 2008 and 2013 (%)Source: Eurostat (last update 10.0.4.2014); *Quarterly data from the OECD Society at a Glance 2014 (Q4-2007 and Q4-2012). No data for Chile, Israel or Korea. Annual and quarterly estimates are not directly comparable. Meanwhile, the sharpest decrease across all of the EU and/or OECD countries was observed in Turkey, but even so, with one in four young people NEET in 2013, it still had the highest rate in the comparison. Not surprisingly, the biggest increases in the NEET rate since the financial crisis were in countries that suffered the largest drops in economic output and the greatest increases in unemployment. The 15-24 age group includes young people at different stages in their lives. Young people aged 15-19 are mostly still in compulsory secondary education. The shares of 20-24-year-olds who are neither employed nor in education or training tend to exceed those for the 15-19-year-olds, but even lower rates of NEET among the younger age group are most worrisome, since these young people are most likely not acquiring qualifications (Figure 2). The NEET rate is an indicator of exclusion both from the labour market and education. High NEET rates are a matter for policy concern because they suggest a halted transition from school to work, and a greater involvement of youth in the “informal” economy (OECD 2013). Since many of these young people will struggle to integrate into the labour market, there will be higher longer term individual and societal costs. Figure 2: NEET rates (15-24) in 2008 and 2013, by age group (%)Source: Eurostat (last update 10.0.4.2014); *OECD Education at a Glance 2013 (years: 2008 and 2011). No data for Chile or Japan. Being unemployed at an early age tends to have lasting negative effects on future wages and employment prospects, as well as on subjective well-being and health. Even those who find employment during the economic crisis may end up on a lower earnings trajectory, with many of them trapped in temporary, intermittent and part-time work. The societal costs include not only the loss of growth and revenue potential, but also the break-down of intergenerational trust, with many young people having no confidence in traditional socio-economic and political institutions. The UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti Report Card #12 coming out in late 2014, investigates the impact of the recent financial and economic crisis on children and young people in rich countries. Yekaterina Chzhen works on the background research that is going into Report Card #12. References: OECD (2013) Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD.