Monday, December 21, 2009

Asia still spending on children during the recession

In comparing the current recession to the Asian economic crisis of 1997, the International Labor Organization found some good news. Child labor has not increased significantly during this current slowdown, whereas child labor had a huge jump in 1997. The ILO attributes this to Asian governments continued spending on social assistance instead of cutting those programs.

From the IPS, reporter Marwaan Macan-Markar examines how the Asian countries are coping in the world's recession in regards to child labor.

"There are some positive signs emerging from the current crisis unlike in 1997," says Gyorgy Sziraczki, senior economist at the Asia-Pacific office of the International Labour Organization (ILO). "Governments have learnt from the Asian crisis and are not repeating the same mistakes as they did then."

"Cutting social spending after the 1997 crisis was an aggravating factor to increasing child labour," added Szirackzi in an interview in his Bangkok office. "This explains the good news this time."

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) learned similar lessons. The two financial institutions’ austerity conditions for large bailout or rescue packages included cutting social spending. This time, though, "they didn’t suggest cuts in social spending," said Szirackzi.

"The governments in the region did not cut social spending but introduced programmes that strengthened social spending," Szirackzi explained. Indonesia and the Philippines are among the countries where innovative social spending programmes have been introduced, consequently keeping vulnerable children in the school system.

Indonesia’s ‘Hopeful Family Programme’, which was implemented in January 2007, was expanded in 2009 to cover more families in the giant archipelago following the crisis hitting its export sector. Under this programme, families living below the poverty line of less than 15 U.S. dollars per month get a direct boost of cash on top of aid for health and education.

These forms of assistance are conditional on expectant mothers undergoing at least four medical check-ups during maternity, said the ILO in a study assessing the impact of the global financial crisis in Asia. "Families with children need to take them to local community health centres to receive vaccinations and ensure they complete up to junior high school. A minimum attendance requirement is also set at 85 percent each year," added the report.

A similar programme in the Philippines—called ‘Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino’ or poverty reduction programme for the Filipino familiy, which was implemented in 2007—was expanded in 2009 to benefit more poor families, says Armin Bauer, a senior economist at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. "They were given conditional cash transfers to ensure that maternal care was ensured and that children went to school."

The Philippines and Indonesia gave additional money to the already prevailing social spending programmes, he said in a telephone interview from the Philippine capital, Manila. "After the 1997 crash there was no additional money spent, only cuts."

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