Investing in Children – Benefit for All Children
The International Conference "Investing in Children - Benefit for All Children" calls for aligning public financial resources with policies and legislation affecting children with the aim of reducing poverty and social exclusion of children.
The high-level event gathering participants from 21 European countries, and was organised by the Network of Organizations for Children of Serbia (MODS), Eurochild, the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU) and UNICEF took place on 12 October in Belgrade.
The conference emphasised Serbia's commitment to fighting child poverty and meeting the United Nations development agenda and promoted international experiences and examples of public budget allocations.
“We had the privelege to exchange with high level government and civil society representatives in Belgrade about the benefits of investing in children for the entire society. We were encouraged to see the commitment from the Serbian government to the issue. Yet, much still remains to be done to put children at the forefront of our policies everywhere in Europe.” said Mieke Schuurman, Senior Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Eurochild.
A draft law on financial support to the family with children will be presented soon to the national Assembly of Serbia. On that occasion, Slavica Djukić Dejanović, the minister without portfolio in charge of demography and population policy, and Head of the Council for the Rights of the Child of the Government of Serbia, highlighted the role of said Council in coordinating follow-up collective actions and advancement of child policies.
"The most cost-effective social goal is investing in children. We have prepared measures and laws that will make a key contribution in that direction. We are working on the revision of the Strategy for Encouraging Birth, we will soon send a law on financial support to the family with children in the parliamentary procedure. We are creating a national mechanism for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and I am sure that the fight against poverty, as well as health promotion, education and gender equality will be in our focus," said Minister Djukic Dejanovic at the opening of the conference.
The Minister of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs Zoran Djordjevic stressed that the Government of the Republic of Serbia fully accepts and implements the policy of supporting children from the youngest age, through different programs for children and their parents or legal guardians. The provision of minimal financial security to the family with children is realised by the Republic of Serbia primarily through the implementation of the Law on Social Protection and the Law on Financial Support to the Family with Children, as well as through the protection of the rights of the child, which we are committed to in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and all accompanying domestic and international legal acts and sub-acts. Serbia is fully committed to the most important investment in the country's future - investing in the early development of the child.
The Deputy Director of UNICEF, Severine Leonardi, pointed out that the Government of the Republic of Serbia is clearly committed to the well-being of children and invests in various types of monetary benefits and services that affect children directly or indirectly. However, the structure of the budget still does not fully reflect these investments and does not provide a full insight into the details. Therefore, UNICEF calls for the government to define a methodology for better monitoring of child-related investments and create a basis for budgeting that is tailor-made for children.
Investing in children is an investment in the future of all children and all of us
At the beginning of the conference, the participants had an opportunity to watch a recorded address by European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Marianne Thyssen who sent the message that childcare practically pays for itself:
"In under ten years our societies get a full return on investment. Compare that with the payback time of 40 years for a road. If you care for children, invest in childcare. In Belgrade or Brussels we share the view, no child should suffer from poverty or social exclusion. So I applaud your goal: investing in the wellbeing and the future of all children" Commissioner Thyssen said.
“The Republic of Serbia is seriously working to establish a single system for planning, preparing and implementing infrastructure investments. A particular challenge in the future will be the recognition of the importance of "soft" investments, including investment in children, as one of the priorities for national investment, bearing in mind rates of return on this type of investment. Investing in children is not only on investment in them but also in increasing employability of their parents, primarily mothers, who through the more efficient provision of public services have, among other things, greater opportunities to enter the labor market and become economically stronger. " said the State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mirjana Ćojbašić.
The Manager of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Team of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU), Ivan Sekulović, said that it is necessary to know how much we allocate for children and families with children and what the structure of these investments look like, bearing in mind that the poverty of children and families with children in Serbia is above the average.
The conference concluded that it is necessary to intensify the work on the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (which puts the fight against child poverty at the forefront) and to improve the monitoring and evaluation of the financial allocations for children and families in Serbia. Groups of community services with sufficient coverage are needed to support families, especially those at risk of separation, and financial support to families and children living in poverty.