Social protection: a view from childhood and adolescence

Federación de Organizaciones de Defensa de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes en Costa Rica (COSECODENI)
COSECODENI is a member of the Costa Rican Social Watch Network. This report is an extract from the Alternative Report presented to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Coordinating Team: Virginia Murillo Herrera (Defence for Children International-Costa Rica), Xinia Brenes (YMCA), Catalina Fernández (Casa Alianza). Alternative Report Work Team: Juan Carlos Zamora (Defence for Children International-Costa Rica), Djamila Salas (Aldeas SOS), Catalina Fernández (Casa Alianza), Josial Salas (World Vision).

The low specific budgetary allocations for health care and social welfare programmes for minors demonstrates that the protection of the rights of children is not given the priority required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Costa Rica’s Childhood and Adolescence Code.Thesocial spending which the state carries out is an effective yardstick to measurethe effort actually made to promote social security and guarantee the fullexercise of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights.

The Costa Rican state’s social spending during 1998-2003 rose from
16% to 18.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP). This spending is aimed at fivegeneral areas: education, health, social assistance, housing, and recreation,culture and religion.

Figure 1 shows the relative structure of social spending. It should be notedthat expenditure on education, health, and social assistance combinedconstitutes over 90% of the total, whereas expenditure on recreation, cultureand religion (which includes sports, cultural, recreational and religiousservices) makes up less than 1% of the total social spending.

As a percentage of GDP, the relative structure of social spending has undergoneslight modifications during the period. There has been a slight increase (onepercentage point) in education and health expenditure, while at the same timethe growth in social assistance expenditure has declined slightly. Expenditureon the housing sector has remained practically unchanged, as has the minimalspending on recreation, culture and religion.

In Figure 2, however, it is worth noting the dynamic growth of the proportion ofGDP devoted to servicing the public foreign debt. In comparison with the socialspending components, the amount devoted to paying the debt is rising at a muchfaster rate, more than doubling during 1998-2003. Growing pressure to servicethe foreign debt is evident, even when this implies curbing expenditure onsectors which are key to the country’s development and to creating theconditions necessary for the exercise of human rights.

Paradoxically, the debt contracted by Costa Rica to finance its developmentprocess has become a heavy burden weighing down the very development it shouldhave facilitated. The country’s foreign debt stands at USD 3.753 billion, and40% of this amount is owed to multilateral organizations whose declared missionis to promote development and the exercise of human rights in developingcountries.

It is also worth notingthat in no year has expenditure on education reached 6% of GDP as required bythe Constitution, thus constituting a violation of the Constitution itself andof the principles which establish priorities for the most vulnerable sectors ofsociety.

A guarantee for the future

It is also clear that not all social spending is aimed at children andadolescents, and so it would be enlightening to attempt to visualize theproportion of this expenditure that specifically benefits minors.

The Convention on theRights of the Child, ratified by the United Nations in 1989, is a broad compilation of thecivil and political rights and of the economic, social and cultural rights ofminors. It has been affirmed that for each of these groups of rights the stateshould adopt a different attitude, in order to provide citizens with guaranteesregarding these same rights. Although civil and political rights establish thatthe state should abstain from taking measures which could limit them, in thecase of economic, social and cultural rights, it is necessary for the state toadopt positive measures in order to make them possible.

Further to these arguments, in the case of the rights of minors, basicmeasures and actions are required, and these should be aimed, on the one hand,at directly guaranteeing fundamental rights such as health and education, and onthe other, at enabling children and adolescents to enjoy these rightsadequately. Not only must there be investment in education, but specificmeasures must also be taken to guarantee that all children are enrolled andeffectively remain within the educational system.

In 2001, according toUNESCO (2004), 17% of expenditure on education was allocated to higher educationand 9% to vocational training. Therefore, 74% of the total spending on educationwas directly channelled into general education (including study incentives), anarea in which the great majority of beneficiaries are minors.

However, the same study shows that study incentives (grants, vouchers, schooldining rooms and school transport) represent only 4% of expenditure oneducation, which is surprising, since these programmes are the main strategiesestablished by the government to increase inclusion, permanence and schoolsuccess of the broad sectors which are currently excluded.

Half of the resources allocated to general education are focused on primaryeducation, which explains to a large extent the marked deterioration ofsecondary education.

A health model that gives little priority to children

As regards health, 77% of the total spending focuses on curative medicalservices, while only 17% of expenditure on the sector is devoted to primaryhealth care (illness prevention and health promotion).

It has been shown that adolescents are the least frequent users of the curativemodel whilst simultaneously constituting one of the groups which most urgentlyrequires the services of preventive medicine, such as sexual and reproductiveeducation, information for the prevention of drug consumption, and others.

Likewise, spending on nutrition programmes represents only 2% of the totalamount devoted to the health sector.

Scant social assistance for minors

It is under the heading of social assistance that children and adolescents areleast contemplated as regards budgetary allocation. From the total amountallocated, 87% is devoted to the payment of pensions and work regulation, areasin which minors have no participation. The remaining 13% is directly targeted atvulnerable groups, including, as one of the target groups, deprived children andadolescents.[1]

For its part, a study carried out by UNICEF and the Inter-Disciplinary Study andSocial Action Programme for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (PRIDENA)maintains that the meagre budgetary allocation corresponding to institutionsthat protect children’s rights “makes it clear that the protection of thoserights is not being given the priority, fiscal or macroeconomic, required by theConvention and the Childhood and Adolescence Code [of CostaRica, Law No. 7739 of 6 January1998]” (

In short, children and adolescents – who constitute close to 38% of the totalpopulation – receive 36% of overall social spending, which raises doubts as towhether the state is placing the priority on this age group required by bothnational and international commitments. Specifically, this group accounts for67.2% of total expenditure on education, 33% of health spending, barely 5.8% ofthe amount allocated to social assistance, 39.5% of spending on housing, and34.2% of the very small amount allocated to recreation, culture, sports andreligion.


UNESCO (2004). “Financiamiento de laeducación superior en América Latina: el caso de Costa Rica”. Available from:<>.

UNICEF/PRIDENA (2004). IV Estado de los Derechos de la Niñez y laAdolescencia en Costa Rica. San José: Universidad deCosta Rica/UNICEF/PRIDENA.