Examining budgets to reveal social and economic inequities and persuade the government to rectify them

The Children’s Budget Unit (CBU) at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) examines national and provincial budgets to reveal whether or not the government is meeting its commitments to protecting the rights of children and to provide recommendations.

South Africa’s constitution states that every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, health care and social services. However, millions of children go hungry, do not have the material means to attend school or receive health care and find it impossible to live healthy and secure lives.

When analyzing budgets, CBU first determines the government’s obligations based on the constitution and international commit­ments. It then measures the extent of child poverty in the area being studied. This is followed by a comprehensive analysis of budget allocations and expenditures and of the delivery of key services to children, revealing the government’s fiscal priorities. This analysis and compilation of the budgetary facts allows CBU to clearly illustrate where the national, provincial or local government is not meeting its obligations. It also provides solid facts and data from which to make recommendations and strongly pressure for change. In some cases, local governments do not even collect this data and welcome the information that IDASA provides as a way to improve their own work.

This tactic has resulted in new legislation and better relationships with key government institutions, some of which now request information from the CBU. The tactic has spread globally, with similar monitoring units being opened in parts of Asia, South America and across the African continent.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

Sometimes individual leaders hold moral and political sway over governments, and sometimes numbers and data speak for themselves. Budget analysis can uncover inequities in the fulfilment of social and economic rights, can be a tool to help persuade governments to rectify these inequities and can help hold governments accountable to their commitments.

To monitor government programs the CBU gathers information that the government itself is either unable or unwilling to obtain. This tactic merges two historically separate discourses — of budget analysis and of human rights — to improve budget transparency, accountability and good governance practices. Rather than becom­ing an adversary, the CBU persuades the government to accept, use and even request this data in order to improve the lives of the children in the community. The CBU also maintains its monitoring role to ensure that the information gathered is credible and can be used by the country’s human rights lobbyists. To do its work, the CBU needs access to budgets, which may not be available in less open societies. The first step in using such a tactic, then, is to ensure that local laws allow public access to budget information and to pressure for this access if it does not exist.

This tactic can be used to monitor national and local government commitments, donor commitments, for­eign aid and Poverty Reduction Strategy Policies, as well as conditions governments must adhere to in order to access certain types of donor funding from institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The budgeting approach can also show what progress is being made on a wide range of human rights issues, including disability rights and the rights to education, housing and health.