| When a child is not adequately nourished it is not only the child's family but the society as a whole that have failed that child. There should be mechanisms for calling governments to account and correcting that failure. If the law says that children are entitled to some particular service as a matter of right, that law also should establish an accountability mechanism to assure that the service is provided adequately and effectively.
An implementation mechanism for achieving a goal has both monitoring and response components. The monitoring component assesses the distance and direction from the goal, and the response component acts to move toward the goal. An automobile driver, for example, monitors through her eyes, and responds by pressing the pedals and turning the steering wheel. Where the goal is to improve children's nutrition, the monitoring element could use indicators such as food intake or anthropometric measures to assess the location and extent of malnutrition in the society. The response element would involve feeding, health, and care programmes targeted to where the monitoring component showed it was needed.
There are many ways in which such a system could go wrong. The monitoring component may measure the wrong things, or it may not be very sensitive. Or the responses may not work well. For example, income transfers to the family may be diverted to uses other than meeting the needs of the child. Government-funded school lunch programmes that feed all public school students may feed many who do not need assistance, and thus may be unnecessarily costly. People who are technically entitled to a particular benefit may not know about it or may have difficulty accessing it. A child who is fed at a centralized feeding programme may for just that reason get less to eat at home. An effective system would notice these problems, and make constant course corrections to navigate the system toward the goal. The design of a system for assuring children's right to adequate nutrition would have to be refined over time until it could be shown that it really works.
Social service programmes usually reach only some of the needy some of the time. Governments may boast about the number of individuals served, but they tend to be silent about the number of people who are needy but are not served. Accountability means paying attention to that shortfall. The obligation is not simply to provide some service, but to end the problem of malnourished children. Any government that really wants to end childhood malnutrition should be willing to make itself accountable for meeting that challenge.
Assurance that services will be provided results not simply from the creation of service programmes (e.g., school lunches, nutrition education programmes) but from institutionalized mechanisms to establish accountability. An accountability (or compliance) mechanism watches the implementation mechanism to make sure it does its job well. It is located outside the implementation mechanism, and may have its own separate monitoring procedures. Governments have their legislative auditors and Inspector Generals to make sure government agencies stay on track.
In the United States, there is a compliance monitoring procedure designed to assure that the states provide disabled children the educational services to which they are entitled under the law. If a government wants to assure that it will always be attentive to the concerns of children, it could pay for an independent Children's Ombudsman to handle complaints against the government.
Many different kinds of measures can be used to provide accountability. In a well-designed system of rights there will be specialized government agencies (such as Inspector Generals) to assure the accountability of implementing agencies. If they are absent or ineffective, non-governmental agencies can hold the implementing agencies to account.
The use, or threat of use, of the judicial system can be a potent means for keeping implementing agencies on track, but other more political means (such as public information campaigns through the media) may be used as well. In Hawaii, the non-governmental Children's Rights
Coalition has launched a suit against the state government for its failure to provide mandated educational services for learning disabled children. The legal action is being accompanied by a public information programme that will help people to understand their children's rights. If there were a right-to-adequate-nutrition on the books, such a coalition also could bring action against the government for failing to prevent malnutrition.
In general, if the system threatens to go off the tracks, the compliance or accountability mechanism sounds an alarm and takes action to correct the implementation mechanism. Accountability means there are independent observers of the implementation mechanism that have some capacity to take or call for corrective action if the system is not operating well. Ideally there should be explicit standards against which the accountability agency evaluates the performance of the implementing agency. Theaccountability agency is in effect a permanent auditor.
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