Fair’s fair, wherever you’re born

Across the airwaves, through all the papers, all over the internet, down in the basement… As the media hummed with the launch of Save the Children’s ‘No Child Born To Die’ campaign, hundreds of Save the Children staff took half an hour out on Monday to pile down to the basement of our office for our own view of the launch.

The enthusiasm and energy was a world away from where I was last week: the civil servants, diplomats, development types, and defence people that were sat in the Foreign Office all had good intentions, but the applause was only polite and there was certainly no whooping.

The discussion last week was to inform the UK Government’s ‘Building Stability Overseas’ strategy: Britain’s role in stabilising countries where States’ unwillingness or inability to provide services – including security – threatens UK national interests. Countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Yemen top the chart of unfortunates known as ‘fragile states’.

So why was I there? Why is Save the Children interested? Take Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the worst places in the world to be a child: one child in every four born there will not live to see their fifth birthday. Afghan children have a right to our help, but Afghanistan is not the only country where children are denied their right to life.

Altogether, fragile states are home to one fifth of the total population of developing countries, but they contain half of children who die before they reach five years old. If the UK Government cares about tackling maternal and infant mortality as they claim, then its focus should include the poorest kids in Afghanistan (and not just in conflict-affected areas of the country) but shouldn’t be so tight that it becomes blind to those children suffering elsewhere.

That’s a pretty strong case, I reckon, but if it needs to be stronger, this idea of equity makes sense for cost effectiveness, too. Research by Save the Children has shown that many of the countries making the most progress to reduce child mortality are doing so by focusing on the poorest. Progress leaps ahead when it aid is concentrated among the poorest and most disadvantaged people.

As for stability, the idea of equity took many forms in that Foreign Office room, from the dry (‘horizontal equality’) to the conceptually bizarre (‘making a tightrope into a bridge’). But the point was the same: inequality can destabilise a country; the broader the benefits of growth, the more secure it is.

It shouldn’t matter whether you’re born in a country that features large in the UK Government’s national security radar, or whether you’re born in a country that’s just plain poor. Wherever you’re born, no child is born to die.

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