An Assessment of National Budgeting Transparency to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse
By FP Analytics, the independent research division of The FP Group, in partnership with World Vision International and with support from Oak Foundation
Although children represent the future of humanity, many are exposed to a range of risks that not only undermine their well-being but also hold back their potential and violate their fundamental human rights. A 2016 study estimated that one billion children globally had experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the previous year. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is especially pernicious. This first-of-its-kind report on national budgeting to prevent and respond to CSA shows that governments in high-, middle-, and low-income countries are often failing to transparently resource policies and laws to achieve their stated policy objectives. This is even more concerning in light of the prevalence of CSA globally. According to UNICEF, at least one in 10 girls under the age of 20 have been forced to engage in sex or perform other sexual acts. Boys are also subjected to sexual abuse, but the phenomenon is under-reported and often overlooked. With the advent of the Internet, widespread access to mobile phones, and emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), the risks and vulnerabilities children face have only grown. For example, a 2023 investigation found that AI-generated images of adolescents and children, including those as young as toddlers, are being leveraged to perpetuate CSA. Despite growing recognition of these and other dangers affecting children, the full extent of the challenges remain obscured.
In general, data from high-, middle-, and low-income countries suggests that rates of CSA are undercounted. Self-reported surveys tend to show a higher prevalence than is recorded by welfare and law enforcement agencies. Widespread social stigma, fear, trauma, and low levels of trust in, and availability of, government resources often mean that victims of CSA do not share their experiences or wait for significant periods of time before doing so. One survey of over 1,000 victims of CSA in Germany found that the average age of reporting was 52.2 years. In the Philippines, 44 percent of children surveyed indicated that they would not know who to tell if they were abused, and in Kenya, two-thirds of survivors surveyed said they did not know where to go for help. Furthermore, even when victims report their experiences, they may be silenced by their families and communities or the authorities. Yet, policymakers have a critical role to play in preventing and responding to CSA by ensuring that institutions are not only responsive to the needs of all children, especially those at risk, but also that laws and policies are effectively operationalized through adequate funding, including for both response and prevention efforts. In addition to public commitments, tackling CSA requires mobilization and coordination across multiple ministries and departments in each country, and from the national to local levels, as well as the participation and support of multilateral agencies and civil society organizations.
Recognizing the need to better understand the effectiveness of government efforts, and with an eye toward driving progress, FP Analytics, the independent research division of The FP Group, partnered with World Vision International and Oak Foundation to undertake a far-reaching study of national budgeting dedicated to addressing CSA. FP Analytics conducted research to identify the levels and types of national funding allocated to prevent and respond to sexual abuse against children across 20 high-, middle- and low-income countries across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific.
Culminating in a groundbreaking report, Safeguarding Childhood builds on the Out of the Shadows Index and seeks to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including target 16.2 (“end[ing] abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against, and torture of, children”), target 5.2 (“eliminat[ing] all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres”), and target 5.3 (“eliminat[ing] all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations”). This synthesis report distills key findings, patterns, and trends globally and across the 20 country case studies covered in Safeguarding Childhood. It is complemented by the individual country case studies, which provide a more detailed picture of the national policies and legislation relevant to preventing and responding to CSA and their associated budgets, while also analyzing strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.
Safeguarding Childhood’s key findings include:
- Even as recognition of CSA grows, national plans, strategies, and other policy documents related to CSA commonly fail to specify budgetary needs and commitments to meet their stated objectives. The lack of transparency complicates the task of independent tracking and evaluation, including to determine the extent to which national budgeting is commensurate with demonstrated need. Countries across all income levels need to do more to ensure transparency of budget allocations and expenditures to implement laws and policies for preventing and responding to CSA.
- In only seven out of 20 countries analyzed (35 percent) did the national strategic policy document that was most closely focused on CSA include explicit budgetary information. Only in one out of 20 case studies—Australia—was it possible to identify detailed annual figures on how much was being spent to prevent and respond to CSA. Governments need to maintain clear connections between policy goals and the resources needed to achieve them.
- Response efforts—including enforcement, prosecution, and survivor services—are allocated the majority of resources across all 20 case study countries, while prevention efforts are intermittently detailed and largely underfunded, making prevention a distant goal. Budgetary allocations related to CSA prevention efforts need to be clearly highlighted to ensure adequate support.
- Budgetary allocations related to CSA are not always discernible from other child protection priorities, which may reflect a holistic approach to implementation of stated objectives but can complicate detailed tracking and evaluation. Even within an integrated approach to child protection, countries need to more clearly document budgetary commitments related to addressing CSA alongside other related priorities.
- CSA-related budgetary allocations are frequently only identifiable within narrow silos rather than across government. Whole-of-government responses to CSA could be supported by whole-of-government information about related efforts.
- Sociopolitical or fiscal upheaval—driven by COVID-19 or other crises—imperils funding for CSA response and prevention. Governments need to be mindful of how changing spending priorities can rapidly impact children at risk of abuse.
Safeguarding Childhood is a policy-oriented, evidence-based report utilizing a combination of research methods and drawing on both quantitative and qualitative data. The scope of the project was informed by Articles 19 and 34 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the definition of CSA provided in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention.
Additionally, the scope and methodology of this project were guided by an advisory group consisting of leading child protection, government budgeting, CSA-specific policy and academic experts. (See Appendix A for a full list of advisory group members.) This advisory group met three times with the research team over the duration of the project between 2022 and 2023: at the outset of the research design phase, midway through the research and development process, and shortly before the launch of the final report. Many members participated in semi-structured research interviews, which informed the findings and analysis of this report. The advisory group reviewed and provided feedback on drafts, culminating in the final report of Safeguarding Childhood.
Based on research by FP Analytics and guided by recommendations from the project’s advisory group, a set of inclusion and exclusion criteria informed the selection of 20 case study countries, including:
- Geographic diversity, spanning all continents except Antarctica;
- Economic diversity, covering high-, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low-income countries, including a combination of G-7 and G-20 economies as well as least-developed countries; and
- Availability and accessibility of qualitative and quantitative data, such as policy and legislative documents, budget appropriations and expenditure information, and relevant case-specific primary and secondary analyses.
Socioeconomic Overview of Case Studies
The 20 countries examined in Safeguarding Childhood span all continents except Antarctica and include high-, middle-, and low-income economies.
The goal of this project was neither to rank nor systematically compare the countries examined. Instead, the national context and central government budgets were investigated individually with key findings highlighted in each case study. This project utilized a combination of research methods to collect quantitative and qualitative data, including:
- Open-source, desk-based review of literature drawing on primary and secondary resources such as publications by governments, nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and media outlets. Most often, this took the form of national-level budget laws or budget estimates, though some countries published more detailed expenditure reports at the ministry or department level. As Jennifer Asman, public finance specialist at UNICEF and member of the Safeguarding Childhood project’s advisory group observed, “Expenditure data shows the reality of what [a] commitment actually translated into. However, it’s really difficult to access in a timely or useful form.” Tracking budget allocations, which are more accessible, can serve as an alternative approach to measure government investments in certain issues, but such allocations are infrequently published in detail, making systematic data tracking, reporting, and transparency imperative to gauging impact.
- Semi-structured interviews with subject-matter experts and representatives from civil society groups, intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions, relevant government agencies and ministries, and other in-country experts conducted between December 2022 and August 2023. Interviewees were selected through purposive outreach based on desk-based research, recommendations from the project’s advisory group, and through referrals or snowball sampling. Informed consent was obtained verbally to conduct the interviews, and consent for attribution of responses, where applicable, was obtained through written consent. For a full list of interviewees, see Appendix B.
- AI-powered search to cross-check and triangulate literature reviews on each of the 20 case studies. Recognizing the potential value of novel technologies, the study team has integrated ChatGPT—a language-processing AI model—into the research methodology to help locate and verify potentially relevant information for each case study. Unlike a normal search inquiry on the Internet, which returns a list of relevant sources that a researcher then evaluates, ChatGPT draws from a corpus of information to formulate a response based on given parameters, allowing researchers to access information from a greater range of sources, including in other languages, in a matter of seconds. To harness this functionality and after the analysts’ initial rounds of research were complete, researchers fed ChatGPT five questions related to CSA in each case study country, requesting information about relevant programs, laws, government entities, strategic plans, and financing. These inquiries were used strictly to locate potentially relevant information and cross-check the independent research conducted by the FP Analytics team—all information was independently verified before being used to inform further research. All substantive inquiries were conducted using GPT-4, the most recent iteration of ChatGPT’s service. GPT-3.5 and -4 were also used intermittently to assist in translating documents to English, alongside Google Translate.
While this project is unparalleled in its examination of national budgeting to prevent and respond to CSA, the results of the case studies should not be considered as a complete picture of any country’s resourcing. As with any research project, there are limitations related to scope, missing or unavailable data, and methodological constraints to note, such as:
- Focus on national-level appropriations: As this project primarily focuses on national-level funding for CSA prevention and prosecution, it generally does not capture subnational jurisdictional funding, which may constitute a significant portion of funding for child protection in countries with a federal structure. Case studies may reference subnational spending in those instances where national budgetary information is particularly sparse or subnational funding is of particular relevance.
- Unclear budget allocations: Budgeting across, and sometimes within, countries is not uniform. As a result, CSA prevention and prosecution activities are more distinguishable in certain countries and within certain government entities than in others. One common issue faced by researchers was the lack of specificity in national-level budgeting, which commonly led to figures with likely, but uncertain relevance to CSA issues. As Juliet Ohahuru-Obiora, founder of the Action Against Child Sexual Abuse Initiative, noted regarding Nigeria, the “cloak of child protection” is a major problem that “does not allow you to single out accounts for child sexual abuse.” While this may be a function of the integration of CSA-related activities with other child-protection or social services, this tendency obscures targeted funding related to CSA as well as other goals. Additionally, due to data limitations, this project relies on both projected and actual budget figures. As a result, the reliability of the data are subject to the limitations of budgeting processes; governments may underspend or overspend relative to projections.
- Triangulation of findings: The expansive scope and complex nature of this project complicated the task of triangulating research findings. Where possible, the FP Analytics research team shared drafts of case studies with advisory group members who have relevant expertise on specific countries or regions as part of the review process. Some advisory group members and interviewees shared resources, including documents and data points, via written communication to the research team, and these have been integrated into the report where applicable. The FP Analytics team also contacted representatives of relevant government agencies, with mixed success, to seek information not available in the public domain. Notwithstanding these efforts, the report is not exhaustive.
- Limited reliability of ChatGPT: Given the limitations of AI-powered technology such as ChatGPT, the results of a search are not always reliable or exhaustive. For example, ChatGPT is trained on a corpus of data that ends in 2021, meaning that newer developments do not appear in its results. However, ChatGPT can be useful for locating relevant terms that warrant further desk research and to cross-check internet searches conducted by researchers in an effort to make cases more comprehensive.
3. Assessing National Budget Transparency on CSA
To inform each case study, in combination with semi-structured interviews of experts, Safeguarding Childhood analyzed a variety of budget documents in each of the 20 selected countries. These documents took many different forms, offered varying levels of detail and accessibility, and revealed a broad spectrum of government activity. Given the varied forms of available documentation, each case study relies on a unique combination of resources to paint an indicative snapshot of national budgeting to prevent and respond to CSA. None of the cases is meant to be comprehensive, but they all should be instructive about the state of CSA in each country, the government entities playing a role in addressing abuse, and the budgetary resources being contributed, explicitly or implicitly, to those ends.
Beyond the actual values enclosed within, the availability of budgeting information and the organization it takes can indicate much about a country’s policy direction and priorities. With respect to CSA, ministries, departments, agencies, and commissions may be tasked with addressing CSA specifically or adjacent issues such as child welfare and protection. Governments can also signal their priorities by providing specific allocations for CSA-relevant activities and programs, such as services for victims and law enforcement investigation. Finally, governments sometimes develop national action plans that address CSA directly through an interagency approach.
The FP Analytics research team examined a range of documents, including:
- National budget laws, speeches, and acts: Countries typically publish a national budget document that specifies the broad spending plan for a given fiscal year (FY), generally delving into specific budget lines (i.e., subcomponents) at the ministerial or departmental level and often for individual programs or purposes within each entity. However, these documents typically represent forecasts for the year ahead and are highly susceptible to change due to emergencies or shifting fiscal and political priorities, making them only partially helpful for gauging government spending. (See note below on budget execution.) Additionally, many documents of this nature lacked sufficient detail at the ministerial or department level, leading the research team to look for more documents, for example, on annual estimated expenditures.
- National budgetary expenditure documents: Separate from annual budget laws and equivalent higher-level documents, countries often publish more detailed records of projected and actual budgeting expenses for constituent parts of the national government.
- Ministerial or departmental expenditure supplements: In the absence of a central document that contains sufficient detail at the national level, the research team also examined ministerial- or department-level budget estimates in some cases. These documents may appear in an ad hoc or inconsistent format among departments and ministries and often suffer from intermittent availability. However, they can also provide information at a granular level not seen in national-level documents.
- Other policy, strategy, and development planning documents: Countries publish a variety of documents that might contain relevant budgetary information, including national strategies, national action plans, vision statements, implementation plans, and monitoring and evaluation frameworks, among others. While such documents do not always contain budgeting information, and while those that do have budgeting information are not always set in stone, they can offer insights into budgetary allocations to countering CSA. In a best-case scenario, a national strategic plan and national budget might mirror one another with identical figures and clearly defined commitments over the short and long term, as seen with Australia’s commitment to spend AUD 307.5 million on CSA over 10 years.
These various documents also incorporated a range of formats of budgeting information that offered differing levels of detail. Budgetary line items—an individual indication of a source of income or a type of expense—are of varying utility based on the type of budget they appear in and their level of granularity. In some instances, line items might detail specific allocations within a targeted program, while in other cases, the most detailed line item might be for a broad category, such as “child protection.” Common formats for budgetary information included:
- Institution-based budgets, which generally offered limited detail about individual government entities but perhaps a more complete understanding of how various institutions interrelate to one another as part of the government’s overall response.
- Program-based budgets, which allowed for more granular analysis of budget allocations because they include line items for specific programs and sub-programs (and even sub-sub-programs and activities, in some instances). Such budgets were especially useful if programs included issue-specific names rather than catch-all categories or names that include multiple issue areas.
- Outcome-based budgets, which look at what a program or institution is seeking to achieve rather than focusing solely on the associated costs. For example, in the case of CSA, such a budget might look at the number of survivors who received a certain type of care in the previous year or the number of towns where child protection services were made accessible. This type of budgeting was relatively rare in the case studies and generally occurred as a supplement to the other types of budgets.
It is important to recognize that aspirational budgets do not always translate into actual spending. To the extent possible, the FP Analytics research team pulled from “actual” figures for past years, meant to reflect the true value that each entity ultimately received or spent. However, “projected” and “estimated” figures were also often drawn upon to build a picture of future trajectories based on current policy priorities. As Conrad Barberton, senior economist at Cornerstone Economic Research and a member of the Safeguarding Childhood project advisory board, noted, “The credibility of budgets in many countries is not very high. . . . They often promise more than they can actually deliver in terms of expenditure.” As he explained, the difference between budget allocations and actual expenditures may be the result of several, sometimes overlapping, factors. These include “showcase budgeting” whereby certain issues are spotlighted as priority areas of spending as a means of signaling to domestic and international constituents but do not translate into monies spent; unrealistic revenue projections stemming from under-collection of revenues; overly optimistic planning without adequate implementation capacity such that allocations are left unspent; mismanagement of implementation; and emergency costs leading to lower than planned spending.
Taken together, these factors further complicate the task of establishing an accurate and full picture of national budgetary commitments to tackle CSA. Nevertheless, the diverse and far-ranging case studies of the Safeguarding Childhood report offer some informative and important insights.
4. Key Findings from Case Studies
While the Safeguarding Childhood project does not seek to rank or systematically compare the 20 case studies covered in the report, this first-of-its-kind research offers informative and noteworthy insights, which are a clear contribution to the research done to date, and are important to consider when trying to understand the state of national budgeting to prevent and respond to CSA. This section provides key takeaways on patterns and trends based on the 20 case studies, highlighting illustrative examples of leaders and laggards.
Even as recognition of CSA grows—and despite the promulgation of laws and policies to prevent and end its occurrence—budgetary allocations to counter CSA remain obscured and are likely below the need in many country contexts.
Between 2015 and 2021, reported cases of CSA in Peru increased annually by 7.7 percent on average, but budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations increased only by 2.1 percent annually on average.
FP Analytics’ research confirmed that while reported incidents of CSA are widely understood to be rising, budgetary allocations to prevent and respond to CSA are not keeping pace. This trend was demonstrated across nearly all case studies examined for this project. Between 2015 and 2021, reported cases of CSA in Peru increased at an annual average rate of 7.7 percent, while budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, the key ministry charged with responding to CSA, increased at an annual average rate of just 2.1 percent from 2019 to 2023, effectively a decline when accounting for inflation. In Indonesia, complaints of sexual violence and online sexual crime increased 36.8 percent between 2017 and 2020, while funding for the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection decreased by 49.5 percent between 2018 and 2021. The same is true in some high-income countries. Reported instances of child rape increased by 62 percent in Sweden between 2013 and 2022, but expenditure in the primary budget area related to responding to CSA—“Health, Medical, and Social Care”—is projected to decline by 7.5 percent between 2021 and 2025, including a 53.3 percent decline for the subcomponent “Children’s Rights Policy.” In the United States, reports of online exploitation of children to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline rose by 5,900 percent between 2013 and 2021; meanwhile, CAPTA State Grants—the federal government’s main form of support to states related to CSA—rose by just 29.0 percent between FY 2018 and FY 2023.
Across income levels, these illustrative statistics indicate that systems to prevent and respond to CSA operate in environments of resource scarcity rather than abundance. Moreover, quantitative data are reinforced by a range of qualitative information captured in case studies, particularly from semi-structured interviews and a review of relevant documents. For example, in Nigeria and Uganda, civil society experts highlighted that police often lack the resources needed to investigate cases, which can lead to survivors and their families paying for an officer’s transportation. At least nine interviewees for Safeguarding Childhood, both inside and outside of government, noted a dearth of resources for CSA-related prevention measures, with interviewees in three case studies suggesting that prevention measures in their countries remain essentially non-existent. As Ángela Carreño of Children Change Colombia noted about the plight of survivors in her country: “There’s no support for the victims. . . . Literally, where will you go after you’ve reported? There’s nowhere to go stay, no one, if you’re a child, to feed you.” The Children’s Commissioner for England estimates that, even today, just one in eight instances of sexual violence against children is brought to the attention of authorities.
The budget of the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse in Germany has doubled between 2020 and 2023.
Nevertheless, FP Analytics’ research also demonstrates that a range of countries show signs of increasing resources for efforts related to preventing and responding to CSA. For example, Australia has expanded its contributions through its national strategic plan, increasing by 40.0 percent between 2021 and 2024, and Germany’s budget for its Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues has doubled between 2020 and 2023. Elsewhere this is apparent through more general growth in budgets for relevant ministries, such as Albania’s growing support for its Ministry of Health and Social Protection, projected to rise by 27.1 percent between 2020 and 2025, and Bangladesh’s expanding budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, which are set to increase by 48.0 percent between 2019 and 2025. With government leadership, these increases could help support programs on CSA.
National plans, strategies, and other policy documents used to address CSA commonly fail to specify budgetary commitments to meet their goals. Of 20 countries analyzed for this project, 13 lacked a national plan relevant to CSA that included specific supporting budgetary information.
Strategic national plans of action, national strategies, and other policy documents devoted to CSA are often useful for both signaling a national government’s recognition of an issue and delineating relevant government entities as well as their areas of responsibility. However, the costs of these plans are frequently unspecified or unclear. In some cases, budgeting is specified in further development planning documents, but in many cases, there is no clear line between national goals and the resources needed to achieve them. While Safeguarding Childhood analyzed a wide variety of plans relevant to CSA across country contexts—including plans related to CSA, online CSA, violence against children, gender-based violence, and protection of children’s rights, among others—only in seven of the 20 countries (35.0 percent) analyzed did the plan most relevant to CSA also include some degree of budgetary allocations to support the plan. Only in one country—Australia—was it possible to identify detailed annual spending figures related to preventing and responding to CSA: AUD 32.8 million in FY 2023 and AUD 121.1 million between FY 2021 and FY 2024. This finding is corroborated by other studies, such as a 2019 analysis on child maltreatment, which found that out of 278 national policies located in the World Health Organization European Region, just 34.0 percent had a budget, and only 6.0 percent included quantified objectives.
Instead, most national action plans and strategies do not specify relevant budgetary commitments, with governments failing to illustrate how specific guidelines and objectives are tied to the budget and planning processes of responsible ministries and departments. In some cases, such as Peru, the plan is meant to be implemented “without demanding additional resources from the Public Treasury,” which raises questions about how useful and effective it can be. In others, such as Bangladesh, funding is left to be detailed at an unspecified later date, with an appendix noting the need for a “further serious plan of action to accomplish the task of costing the items.” In the national action plan for violence against children in Colombia, which runs 41 pages, budgeting information consists of a single paragraph. As one child protection expert cautioned in an anonymous interview with FP Analytics, “A national strategy is fine if the strategy is properly connected with a national development plan with broader frameworks, and if it’s already funded, if there are indicators that are meaningful—because we see very often that is not the case.”
Prevention of CSA remains an unfunded and distant goal.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons allocated NGN 1.37 billion to prevention related programming between 2018 and 2023, compared to total budget allocations of NGN 20.4 billion.
A review of relevant documents and research interviews suggest that CSA prevention efforts in many countries remain nascent or largely underfunded. Prevention efforts related to CSA—such as awareness campaigns, safety training for children and adults, and perpetrator rehabilitation—are only intermittently mentioned in the case study countries, and resources for enforcement, prosecution, victims’ services, and other response measures receive the vast majority of funding. Across the 20 case study countries, research for this project suggests that budgetary commitments to enforcement and response far surpass those devoted to prevention in every case. This is critically important, because without the prioritization of and consistent funding for prevention, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (including Goals 5 and 16) relevant to CSA cannot be achieved.
Examples abound. In Guatemala, identifiable allocations for prevention related to “Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Human Trafficking” totaled GTQ 37.3 million between 2019 and 2023, compared to GTQ 128.5 million for various related support measures for survivors and a further GTQ 141.1 million through the Office of the Attorney General for “Representation, Protection, and Surveillance of the Rights of Boys, Girls, and Adolescents.” Within the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations in Peru, violence prevention activities accounted for less than 5.0 percent of the ministry’s total budget between 2019 and 2023. Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, which has a key national role in addressing CSA in the country, allocated NGN 1.37 billion to prevention-related programming between 2018 and 2023, compared to total budget allocations of NGN 20.4 billion.
In some cases, this degree of distinction between response and prevention is infeasible because CSA-related prevention activities—and in some cases CSA more generally—are not explicitly mentioned within budgetary documents. For example, in numerous countries, such as Albania, Jordan, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates, budgetary commitments to prevention efforts were left unspecified at the national level or within the budgets of relevant government entities. In other cases, spending on prevention cannot be clearly separated from response. Uganda’s National Child Policy 2020–2025 and Germany’s annual budget for the Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues, among other examples, contain budget lines with titles that include both response and prevention, making it exceedingly difficult to distinguish allocations between the two. While this could be reflective of an integrated approach to prevention and response, it is crucial that prevention efforts are consistently and commensurately prioritized in national budgeting.
Budgetary allocations related to CSA are often cannot be isolated from other child protection priorities, which can signal an integrated approach to addressing related challenges but complicates identifying targeted resource commitments.
In FY 2021-22, two pages of Australia‘s budget were devoted to CSA explicitly, replete with contributions over a five-year period through 12 government entities, with confirmed further funding over a 10-year period. Such clarity is the exception rather than the rule.
CSA is almost always considered a sub-priority within larger ministries focused on policy areas such as social welfare, health, gender, youth, or human trafficking. While such a relationship may make sense in terms of institutional resources—for example, given the overlap between gender-based violence and CSA—it often complicates efforts to identify budgetary commitments to CSA specifically. For example, in Nigeria through the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and in Guatemala through the Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Human Trafficking, resources to address CSA appear mixed with allocations to counter human trafficking, as seen in budget lines such as “Prevention of crimes involving sexual violence, exploitation, and human trafficking.” Elsewhere, the responsibility for CSA cases falls to a government entity more broadly focused on gender issues, such as the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection in Indonesia and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations in Peru. National-level budget documents rarely offer the level of detail needed to parse out allocations to the constituent priorities within such bodies. Australia stands out as an exception. In FY 2021–22, two pages of the Australian budget were devoted to CSA explicitly, replete with contributions over a five-year period through 12 government entities, with confirmed further funding over a 10-year period. Such clarity is the exception rather than the rule.
CSA-related budget allocations are frequently only identifiable within narrow government agency silos, rendering it difficult if not impossible to quantify government-wide budget allocations and to have existing allocations inform a broader and more integrated government-wide strategy.
While many countries have a primary entity charged with addressing CSA that may publish specific CSA-related budget information, such entities are often only a part of the national government’s response. Beyond this entity, which usually holds policymaking, coordination, and mobilization roles, there are typically half a dozen other entities that play key roles, such as ministries or departments of health, education, interior, or gender, as well as judiciary institutions, police bodies, and stand-alone national commissions or councils. For example, educational bodies often bear responsibility for responding to abuse within school systems and serve as a conduit for spreading awareness and training members of the community to recognize cases. Likewise, in nearly all countries, subnational or national police forces are charged with investigating CSA cases and apprehending perpetrators, often through specially tasked units. However, the CSA-related contributions of these many entities are generally impossible to isolate from a budgetary perspective, which in some cases also reflects a fragmentation of efforts across government bodies.
This often leads to an incomplete picture of CSA-related funding, limited to a single department or ministry, particularly absent a national plan that demonstrates all relevant budget allocations through all relevant government bodies. In Bangladesh, for example, medium-term expenditure estimates provide glimpses of spending related to CSA within the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs through budget lines related to child protection and ending child marriage, but spending related to child protection, let alone CSA, is not detailed within the expenditures of the more than 30 government entities entrusted with counter-CSA activities. Likewise, while Colombia’s national plan for responding to violence against children lists dozens of relevant government bodies across seven component areas, budget lines specific to violence against children were only found under the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare in annual national budgets. To some degree, the lack of traceability is tied to integration of CSA-related activities with broader services, but absent topline clarification of spending on CSA, such as through national policy documents, it is impossible to assess government-wide spending related to the issue.
The availability and level of detail on CSA in public budget documents is not necessarily correlated with a country’s income level, indicating that more transparent budgeting should be a priority for all countries regardless of income levels.
Despite their relative wealth, high-income countries do not necessarily provide clearer or more detailed budgeting information about efforts to fight CSA, compared to low- and middle-income countries. For example, countries such as Germany and Canada, which perform relatively well in terms of their overall response to CSA, offered scant detail about those commitments through their national budgets. Germany, for instance, stood out for the ease of use of its interactive online budget interface, but in terms of clarifying how its Independent Commissioner for Child Sexual Abuse Issues allocates resources, it only mentions “Measures to prevent, combat and deal with child sexual abuse and its consequences” in the FY 2023 budget. This contrasts with Guatemala, which in its own well-organized budget portal enumerates specific budgetary allocations to goals related to training, awareness, and care services within its Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Trafficking. As another example, FY 2022 approved budget estimates for Uganda runs nearly 2,500 pages, replete with allocations to programs, sub-programs, and sub-sub-programs, including within its Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development; meanwhile, the equivalent document in Canada runs just under 250 pages, offering far less insight into Canada’s response efforts to CSA through Public Safety Canada.
Sociopolitical or fiscal upheaval—driven by COVID-19 or other crises—imperils funding for CSA response and prevention, underscoring the need for ongoing and targeted budgeting.
Online sexual exploitation of children in Canada increased by more than 25 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic gravely increased risk factors for CSA, led to higher numbers of reported cases in some countries, and disrupted related services and delayed care. In interviews with FP Analytics, experts highlighted these trends, for example, indicating that the rate of child marriages in Bangladesh and Jordan spiked during lockdown and that reported CSA cases in Colombia more than doubled. Similarly, Public Safety Canada indicated in email correspondence that online child sexual exploitation in Canada increased by more than 25 percent. While the reallocation of budgets in times of crisis is to be expected, CSA-related budgets fell in many places simultaneous to rising demand. For example, Indonesia’s expenditures for its Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection fell from IDR 493.6 billion in FY 2019 to IDR 263.4 billion in 2020, a 47.6 percent reduction. Between FY 2019–20 and FY 2020–21, budget allocations for “Children” and “Youth” through South Africa’s Department of Social Development fell by 23.9 percent and 71.7 percent, respectively, while funding for “Social Development and Children Services” in Kenya’s State Department for Social Protection fell by 16.3 percent.
At the same time, COVID-19 was not the only crisis to impact CSA-related budgets in recent years. Guatemala failed to pass a new budget in FY 2020 and FY 2021 due to political gridlock, leaving child-protection funding stagnant at a time of rising need. Lebanon, faced with compounding fiscal and political crises, has struggled to appropriately fund social protection, which includes responding to and preventing CSA. Amid skyrocketing inflation, which topped 268.8 percent in April 2023, spending for social protection measures has fallen drastically in real terms, even as it has increased as a proportion of the overall budget.
5. Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
Children’s futures are too important, and the impacts of CSA too severe, for the issue to be treated with opaque budget commitments and inconsistent funding. When robust action plans related to CSA are accompanied by clear and transparent budgetary information at the national level, observers can more readily understand successful programming, identify gaps in response and prevention, and derive best practices for replication elsewhere. Acknowledging the need for not only greater but also better targeted and tracked investments to prevent and end CSA, Daniela Ligiero, CEO of Together for Girls, co-founder of Brave Movement, and a member of the Safeguarding Childhood project’s advisory group, suggested, “We actually should be reframing this issue as, ‘How can policymakers and decision makers save billions investing in this?’” emphasizing that if countries effectively prevented or intervened early against CSA, the returns on investment would cut across physical and mental health, labor, judicial, and other sectors.
For example, CSA perpetrated in England and Wales in 2019 was estimated to cost GBP 10.1 billion over the course of the survivors’ lifetimes, including in terms of their lost economic productivity and emotional harm as well as costs to the government and victims’ services groups. This type of reframing and estimation could help governments allocate national funding in a more precise manner, taking into consideration that policy interventions are highly context dependent. As Conrad Barberton of Cornerstone Economic Research explains, “Depending on the country’s context, one then needs to develop interventions that are specific to the particular challenges that one is encountering.” Notwithstanding the case-specific aspects of any context which policymakers, legislators, practitioners, and other relevant stakeholders should consider, there are important lessons learned about national budgeting and public investment.
Based on the findings of the research for this report, the following recommendations are offered to policymakers, donors, practitioners, and researchers to combat CSA:
- Governments need to significantly improve the detail and transparency of budgets to provide more consistent and comprehensive information on annual allocations and expenditures related to CSA, including for prevention, prosecution, support services, rehabilitation, and other activities mandated by legislation and policies. This could include: (1) identifying all allocations relevant to CSA in a single location; (2) disaggregating CSA spending from other priorities when feasible and appropriate to do so; and (3) better articulating the purpose of specific budget lines in annual budgets. Increasing this level of detail can enable more effective internal and external monitoring and evaluation, as well as improve capacity to adjust and target resources to mitigate identified gaps or new trends.
- To calibrate and properly target funding to address CSA, national governments, civil society organizations, and private companies need to collaborate and invest in data collection. These data need to be made publicly accessible to enable independent monitoring and evaluation. Data shortfalls were ubiquitous across the case studies, with CSA cases essentially everywhere thought to be underreported and undercounted. Furthermore, better, disaggregated data could help identify trends among at-risk groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, refugees, and internally displaced populations.
- For all countries, making sufficient resources available for CSA-related prevention activities needs to be a priority, considering the demonstrated returns on investment that prevention efforts can have in mitigating violence against children. For those countries where allocations specific to CSA prevention are not already distinguishable from response efforts, greater budget detail and clarity can help illuminate shortfalls and are a necessary prerequisite to building a more comprehensive response. Countries could aim to establish a minimum level of budgetary commitment to ensure that prevention-related activities are continuously prioritized and funded. For example, governments could begin with an initial baseline target, such as 10 percent of all national budgeting on CSA being directed towards prevention; then, coupled with ongoing monitoring and evaluation, this proportion could be further increased to sustained higher levels, informed by ongoing research, local needs, and best practices.
- CSA-related policy and strategy documents, such as national action plans, need to be more clearly paired with complementary budgetary commitments in the short and long term in easily accessible, public formats. Clear documentation of dedicated, multisectoral spending related to CSA is critical to building and signaling a sustained response and will aid in the identification and closing of gaps in the future. Unless backed by resources to enable program implementation, public commitments are hollow and ineffectual.
- Countries with heavily federalized systems need to make special effort to aggregate and analyze responses to CSA across their territory. Without nation-wide, transparent information about efforts to address CSA, comprehensive country assessments are exceedingly difficult, and subnational disparities in response may go unidentified and persist.
- Researchers have a critical role to play in independently monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on resources to prevent and respond to CSA and can therefore build upon the findings of the Safeguarding Childhood report, including by conducting in-depth subnational and national analyses and systematic comparative research.
By Phillip Meylan (Affiliate Researcher), Avery Parsons Grayson (Senior Policy and Risk Analyst), Angeli Juani (Senior Policy and Quantitative Analyst), and Dr. Mayesha Alam (Vice President of Research), with contributions from Saskia Bérengère Brain and Negar Zahiri. Illustrations by Hanna Barczyk.