It’s time to prioritize children and adolescents in Central America »

from Julio Cesar Hernandez

@icefi @Julio_eltrece

Marcos, a 15-year-old teenager, told me how in recent years his life plans have completely changed. He plans to graduate from high school and begin a university career in hopes of one day earning a good income and improving the living conditions of both his family and himself. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, her household income has been significantly reduced and her education has been interrupted. His priorities changed: he had to provide financial support at home at the expense of his studies.

More than two years later, he is still working and has not resumed formal education and, although he contributes financially to his household, resources are still insufficient and becoming more scarce due to rising food prices, according to . Marco believes that there are few options in the country to change his situation and somewhat hopes to migrate to another, which, although not the idea he likes the most, is the option he thinks will help him live with dignity..

What happens to Marco is a story repeated by thousands of children and adolescents in Central America. The crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the war between Russia and Ukraine have worsened the living conditions of the population and lowered the income level and purchasing power of households, increasing the factors that limit their access to adequate food and quality education.

This begs the question, what have governments done to protect children and adolescents from these crises? In the case of Guatemala, the development of public investments in children and adolescents (IPNA) shows that there has been no increase in the priority that the state gives to public investments aimed at this age group. In 2015, IPNA represented 24.2% of the public budget and 3.2% of GDP, for 2021 it represented 23.5% and 3.3%, respectively, practically unchanged; for 2022, the current budget as of June indicates that this trend will not vary significantly. IPNA in Guatemala is characterized by being insufficient: in 2021 it was Q9.1 per day (US$1.2) for each child and adolescent, a figure that, excluding the effects of inflation, increased by only 90 cents for six years, roughly 15 cents each year.

Programs created to address the COVID-19 pandemic do not include children and adolescents among their primary targets. As the graph above shows, in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic began, IPNA’s budget priority in Guatemala was reduced to 21.9%. No robust action was implemented to ensure the reach and quality of distance learning, especially for secondary level students in the public sector.

The current government wants to show that the delivery of school meals for primary and pre-school students during the pandemic is a cornerstone in dealing with this emergency[1]but it is a program that has worked before and in which only the method of delivery has been modified and whose operation depends largely on the work of teachers, mothers and fathers.

During these months, the majority of Central American countries prepare, analyze and approve the public budgets that will govern in 2023, it is necessary to remember the obligation of the legislative bodies to ensure that the budgets, as one of the main instruments in which reflect the true priorities of countries, allocate the greatest amount of available resources to address issues that affect the rights of children and adolescents, especially those who do not have access to minimum levels of food, health and education.

Central American legislators must ensure that budgets are not reduced to address these problems, and they must also eliminate those spending destinations that are inefficient and ineffective for the well-being of the population and direct them to strengthen or implementation of social protection systems that care for children and adolescents from current and future economic, political, environmental, health or social crises. There is an urgent need to guarantee every Central American girl, boy and adolescent their full development and avoid migration as the only option they have to secure their present and future.

[1] See Government of Guatemala in: President Alejandro Jamatei in his speech at the 2022 Education Transformation Summit at the United Nations, accessed 20 September 2022.

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