Donors have consistently underinvested in ending violence against children (EVAC), even knowing that long-term consequences of such violence amount to a staggering annual cost of up to $7 trillion globally. Although recent research shows funding has increased over recent years, huge shortfalls remain and needs are even more acute due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Concerns around spending on EVAC are sadly not new. In 2017, World Vision worked with several child-focused organisations to analyse how much Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) contributed directly to EVAC. The focus was simple: did governments keep their commitments from 2015, when they came together and promised to end child marriage and other forms of violence by 2030, regarding spending and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? The answer, disappointingly, was no.
In 2015, less than 0.6% of ODA went to projects that fully or partially focused on EVAC. Of the 107 recipient countries, funding was mainly focused on two areas – poorer countries and middle-income countries affected by conflict or hosting refugees. Over half of this funding went to the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, with South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria receiving the largest share.
We recently conducted a second review to see if things had improved and there are glimmers of hope. New figures tell us that donor spending to EVAC increased by 66.5% between 2015 and 2018. However, spending to protect children from violence still made up less than 1% of total development assistance (just $1,886.5 million) in 2018.
The increased spend to end violence was more concentrated in 2018 than in 2015 – 68% of all donor funding for EVAC went towards conflict-affected and fragile countries in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Bangladesh, host to almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, received the most funding of any one country (5.6% of the total ODA to end violence).
However, it is still not enough. In Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, the double trauma of statelessness plus Covid-19 has resulted in significant child protection concerns, including rising child marriage cases. While mothers continue taking care of the sick, they are also working hard to keep their children safe and healthy. In many instances, they are the last to eat and the target of increasing domestic violence.
While there is no target for spending on EVAC, we do know a few things:
- Violence against children is a massive problem. Over 1 billion children suffer some form of violence every year. This is not limited to any one country or context and affects every society worldwide.
- However, certain contexts exacerbate existing harmful practices or vulnerabilities. The effects of climate change and changing weather patterns are pulling children out of school and sending them to work. Conflict, in some cases, sees children recruited as child soldiers, or displacement leaves them vulnerable to early marriage, child labour and other forms of exploitation.
- While we don’t have a global analysis of the required spend on EVAC, we can analyse the gap between child protection needs and funding received in humanitarian contexts using Humanitarian Response Plans. The shortfall between appeals related to child protection needs and funds received stretched to 47% in 2019, demonstrating just how underfunded these contexts are.
- As we all know, Covid-19 has exacerbated all of the above. UNFPA predicts an additional 13 million child marriages in the next decade and there has been a surge in child marriages and teen pregnancies as older men take advantage of girls out of school.
Despite increased funding, vast needs remain unaddressed. And if the underfunded, stressful contexts like Cox’s Bazaar receive the bulk of EVAC funding, how bad must it be in other contexts? Zambian girls sexually exploited due to climate change impacts are not considered a humanitarian emergency, so they are not a funding priority. Nor are the millions of girls in Niger, two out of three, married before age 18, or the children of Benin and Burkina Faso, where nearly one in two children is likely to be engaged in child labour.
Funding to end violence is integral to multi-sectoral programming, which is critical for child wellbeing. Only by ending child marriage will education rates improve and maternal mortality decrease. Protecting children from violence is not a luxury – it saves lives. We need more pennies to end violence against children, and we have a responsibility to help guide them and make them count.
Elena Gaia, Director of Global Campaigns, and Amanda Rives, Senior Director, Disaster Management, World Vision