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Influencing politicians to focus on young children

Published January 21, 2012 – by J. Leonardo Yánez

 

Ollanta Humala’s election July 2011 as the new president of Peru represents the latest step forward in a BvLF-backed campaign to improve opportunities for Peru’s youngest citizens. Over the last three years BvLF has invested nearly a million euros in the Grupo Impulsor “Inversión por la infancia” (GIII), led by a Peruvian communications expert recruited from UNICEF, and we are now seeing results as early childhood rises up the political agenda from local to national level.

Peru’s problem is not that it lacks resources – it has substantial oil and mineral wealth. Rather, the problem is that this wealth has not so far made enough of an impact on the lives of its poorest citizens, notably indigenous groups in rural areas and the nearly half of all city dwellers who have practically no access to basic services. Young children need support if they are to have a chance of escaping poverty and overcoming their disadvantaged start to life.

GIII advocates for more resources to be devoted to early childhood, and for policies to be made more coherent. Its online broadcasting tool, Salgalu TV, has averaged over 5,500 visitors per month during the last year and has generated coverage for the campaign in national media outlets including RPP, El Comercio, La Mula and La República.

The campaign quickly made an impact at local level, winning the support of REMURPE, a network which supports and represents the interests of over 700 mayors of small rural municipalities; in some of these municipalities, the budget for early childhood has more than doubled. The enthusiasm of one of the mayors, Amílcar Huancahuari, for promoting early childhood was the subject of a three-part documentary called In the Mayor’s Footsteps, produced by TVE and broadcast on BBC World.

As the movement has gathered more supporters, from celebrities and academics to NGOs and citizens, more and more candidates for elected office have committed to increasing their budgets for early childhood. Among those recently elected are regional presidents of Apurímac and Huancavelica, the provincial mayors of Puno and Lampa, and the district mayors of Castilla, Ascención and Pampas Chico.
The impact of the campaign can also be seen in national-level budget allocations: the combined budgets for maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, basic education and birth registration increased from a total of PEN 2,778,697,340 in 2009 to PEN 4,755,387,453 in 2011. The most recent annual increase, totalling 24% year-on-year, was especially noticeable as it came despite an overall decrease in the national government budget.

Ollanta Humala’s election to the presidency promises to lift the campaign to a new level of impact. The new president appeared on Salgalu TV as a candidate to commit his support, and since his election has announced the creation of a new cabinet position with specific responsibility for early childhood. He has appointed members of the GIII to head the ministries of education and of women and social development, and invited us to assist his government in designing a national plan for early childhood by facilitating access to an international team of expert consultants.

While these developments are immensely promising, we recognise the longer-term need to ensure pressure is kept up to see through the new policies and ensure that increased budgets are spent effectively. With that in mind, GIII has recently collaborated with an academic research institute to launch a new monitoring tool which will help rural mayors to implement effective policies and organized citizens to track how their elected representatives are performing.

J. Leonardo Yánez, August 2011