Ending Child Marriage, Promoting Girls’ Education

Occasionally, I reproduce on this blog posts that I published elsewhere. As basic education is one of the areas of focus of  the Rotary Foundation, some of you may be interested in a study on the economic impacts of child marriage, including on girls’ education, that I recently completed at the World Bank. The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education, and done in partnership with the International Center for Research on Women. A post on the relationship between child marriage and girls’ education that appeared yesterday on the blog of the Global Partnership for Education is reproduced below together with links to related publications (picture below credited to the World Bank).

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Children in a temporary school in Goucheme Niger,  © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

Post published with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) on June 29, 2017:

Every day, 41,000 girls marry before they are 18 years old. That’s 15 million girls every year. What are the economic impacts and costs of child marriage, and how does the practice relate to girls’ educational attainment?

A new study on the economic impacts of child marriage by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that the negative impacts of child marriage on a wide range of development outcomes are large. This is the case not only for child brides, but also for their children and for societies overall. The study benefited from support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education.

Child marriage leads to population growth and entrenched poverty

Detailed analysis was carried for 15 countries, with extrapolations done for some of the impacts and costs of child marriage for more than 100 developing countries. Globally, between now and 2030, child marriage is expected to cost the equivalent of trillions of dollars to populations in the developing world.

The largest impacts in terms of economic costs are through fertility and population growth. Child marriage leads girls to have children earlier and more children over their lifetime. This in turns reduces the ability of households to meet their basic needs, and thereby contributes to poverty. Ending child marriage would generate large welfare benefits through a reduction in population growth, helping to usher in the demographic dividend.

Early marriage makes completing education almost impossible for girls

The relationship between child marriage and educational attainment for girls is also strong. In most developing countries, it is extremely difficult for girls to remain in school once they get married.

As a result, child marriage reduces the likelihood that girls will complete their secondary education. This emerges clearly from questions asked to parents in household surveys as to why their daughters dropped out of school. Marriage is often one of the main, if not the main reason, that adolescent girls drop out of school.

A similar conclusion is reached when modelling the relationship between child marriage and educational attainment econometrically. The effects are large. Every year that a girl marries early (i.e., before 18) is associated with a reduction in the likelihood of completing secondary school of typically four to 10 percentage points, depending on the country or region. This leads to lower earnings for child brides in adulthood since a lack of education prevents them from getting good jobs. In addition, child marriage also reduces education prospects for the children of child brides by curtailing their mother’s education.

The good news is that conversely, keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to delay marriage. This finding emerges from the literature on interventions that have proven successful in delaying the age at first marriage. It also emerges from the empirical estimations conducted for the study. The estimates suggest that across the 15 countries for which the empirical work was carried, each year of additional secondary education reduces the likelihood for girls of marrying as a child and of having a first child before the age of 18 by five to six percentage points on average.

Child marriage must end

The study provides a clear economic rationale for ending child marriage. Child marriage is not only a social issue with potentially dramatic consequences for child brides and their children. It is also an economic issue that affects the ability of countries to grow and reduce poverty. The study also suggests how ending child marriage can be done: by keeping girls in school.

What’s next? With support from GPE, two additional studies are being prepared by the World Bank team. The first study will estimate the benefits from investments in girls’ education using an approach similar to that used for the estimation of the economic costs of child marriage.

The second study will look more broadly at the role that human capital plays in the changing Wealth of Nations. Preliminary findings suggest that human capital is the largest component of the Wealth of Nations, ahead of produced and natural capital.

Together, it is hoped that these three studies on (1) the economic impacts of child marriage, (2) the benefits of investments in girls’ education, and (3) human capital and the Wealth of Nations will help advocate for increased investments in education.

For more information:

Global Report

Project brief on educational attainment

Infographic

All publications on the costs of child marriage

Climate Change, Poverty, and Migration, Part 3: The Implications

by Quentin Wodon

In the previous two posts in this series, I argued that households in climate-affected areas are highly vulnerable to extreme weather shocks, and often cannot cope and adapt adequately to changing climatic conditions. Households also are often not able or willing to relocate to areas less affected by poor climatic conditions. The evidence was based on two recent studies – one for the Middle East and North Africa region where droughts and floods are common, and the other for the Sundarbans in South Asia (let me know if you would like a print copy) where cyclones and associated sea surges are frequent. I would like to complete this series of three posts with a discussion of the implications of the findings for policy makers and service clubs.

Implications for Policy Makers

First, communities affected by changing climatic conditions and weather shocks need more government support to help with short-term coping and medium-term adaptation. The cost of weather shocks and climate change is already felt today by many households, but most have limited ways to cope and adapt. While the two studies on which this series of three posts are based did not provide a cost-benefit analysis to assess which types of programs and policies might help households the most in each country context, there is a clear gap in the public provision and financing of coping and adaptation interventions. This leaves individuals and communities vulnerable and alone in making decisions, which may in turn lead to uncoordinated action and “maladaptation”.

The role of safety nets and social protection programs is especially important to enable households to cope. But the design, coverage and placement of these programs should not be just for the purpose of minimizing the immediate or even future impacts of weather shocks and climate change; safety nets should be seen as an integral part of governments’ broader strategy towards poverty reduction and – in this case – urbanization. They should aim to provide portable skills (human capital) such as a better education for those that need support the most, so that migration becomes more beneficial for the migrants and their family back home through remittances.

Second, migration policy needs to understand and address climate-induced migration in the context of other push and pull factors. Migration is a form of adaptation, but it appears to be often seen as a solution of last resort by households. One reason for this is that migration may be perceived as more costly than other strategies such as using savings, selling assets, or getting into debt to cope with shocks. In addition to material costs (travelling and re-lodging), migration implies substantial risks due to unknown outcomes at the place of destination. It also entails non-economic costs stemming from the uprooting of individuals, households, and sometimes communities. Those left behind may be precluded from reaping the benefits from migration when remittances are hampered by the high cost of remitting or by the fact that migrants have a hard time finding jobs. Policy responses and development interventions need to recognize that migration is or should be a viable and legitimate mechanism through which households address risks to their livelihoods, and a means of adapting to weather shocks and changes in climatic conditions and their impacts. Migration should not be considered as something that needs to be avoided.

Third, enabling communities in sending areas to better leverage the benefits of migration is a better alternative than progressive forced displacement. The effective economic insertion of migrants in urban and other destination areas leads to opportunities for the sending communities through remittances. But without a facilitating environment, remittances may be used for pure consumption and the accumulation of non-productive assets. Among others, incentives should be provided for sending areas, when feasible, to use remittances for productive investments.

Implications for Service Clubs

What do the findings imply for service clubs? There cannot be any cookie-cutter recommendation, but when service clubs are implementing projects in climate-affected areas, they should maintain a balance between responding to immediate needs, and confronting long-term challenges. Many households are left vulnerable in climate-affected areas due to lack of government programs. After weather shocks (or other natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Nepal) hits, Rotarians should mobilize to provide emergency relief. As I mentioned it on this blog, I wonder whether there is a potential role for the Rotary Foundation (TRF) to play here. Currently, TRF does not seem to have a system to provide incentives (matching funds) for individual Rotarians or clubs to donate in times of crisis. Many Rotarians donate when a major crisis hits, but they do so through other organizations. If TRF could set aside some funds to match individual or club donations by Rotarians at time of crises, this could help the foundation raise more funds. It could also help TRF gain even more visibility as a humanitarian organization.

Beyond emergency relief, what may matter even more in the long run are innovative project responses. It would for example be interesting to assess whether investments by Rotary in education projects in climate-affected areas help in improving the likelihood that younger individuals migrate under good conditions to help themselves as well as their family back home. Perhaps one could even think of pilot projects in which Rotarians involved with banking and credit institutions facilitate the flow of remittances from migrants by reducing the cost of remitting, while also promoting investments for productive uses in sending areas through some forms of matching grants for communities. Such projects would have to be evaluated properly to ensure that they are indeed impactful.

These are just a few ideas, but innovative projects implemented by Rotary clubs as pilots, with proper evaluation of impacts, could have larger impacts down the road than traditional grants as other organizations would be able to scale up initiatives that appear especially promising. Not all global grants should be designed that way, but more could. The need for innovation is perhaps largest in those areas of the world where households are especially vulnerable due to repeated weather shocks that will be exacerbated by climate change, as well as other natural disasters.

 

Climate Change, Poverty, and Migration, Part 2: The Evidence

by Quentin Wodon

How devastating are weather schocks associated with climate change for the populations affected? Are the populations able to cope with and adapt to the shocks? Do they migrate away from the affected areas? These are the questions that were considered in two recent studies, one for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and the other for the Sundarbans in South Asia. The book for the MENA region was published last year and is available electronically free of charge here. The book on the Sundarbans was published last month – it is not yet open access, but I received quite a few copies, so if you would like a print copy, please send me an email with your address through the Contact Me page.

Recall that the argument outlined in the first post in this series has three parts: (1) households often suffer from large losses when affected by weather shocks; (2) they have limited ways to cope and adapt; and yet (3) hosueholds affected more do not have higher migration rates away from the areas. In this post, I will share  evidence that backs up these conclusions. In the next post, I will discuss implications of the findings for humanitarian organizations and service clubs.

Impact of Weather Shocks on Households

Surveys were implemented in climate-affected areas of the MENA region and in the Sundarbans. In the MENA surveys, households could identify droughts, floods, storms, mudslides, excessive heat, excessive rain, pest infestation, crop and livestock diseases, and other events as having affected them. In the Sundarbans, the questionnaire identified cyclones, droughts, floods, and other events. Almost all households said that they had been affected by adverse weather events in the five MENA countries as well as in the Sundarbans (the exception was Egypt where the proportion was smaller, but still above two thirds). When asked which type of adverse event had the largest negative consequences for them, households in the MENA countries cited droughts first, followed by excessive heat and floods. In the Sundarbans, households cited mostly the cyclones.

In the MENA region, more than half of the respondents said that changes in weather patterns had led to a loss of crops, and more than a third reported a loss of income. About a fourth reported a loss of livestock. Poorer households were more likely to be affected than richer households, which is not surprising given that poorer households are more likely to be farmers and rely on rainfed agriculture. In the Sundarbans, more than a third of households declared that their dwelling had been completely destroyed by cyclones. Another third said that their dwelling had been partially destroyed. All these losses are rather large, showing that the populations in the areas surveyed are highly vulnerable to extreme weather shocks that indeed have dramatic consequences.

Ability to Cope and Adapt

How do households cope with losses generated by weather shocks? Questions were asked about what households did in the recent past and what they would do in the future in case of a new shock. In the MENA region, almost two thirds of households declared that they have used or would use their savings to cope. Close half have sold or would sell assets, have asked or would as for loans, and have sold or would sell livestock. More than a third have withdrawn or would withdraw their children from school. In the Sundarbans, responses were similar, but the proportion of households declaring that they had withdrawn their children from school or would do so in case of a new shock was smaller. Overall, these coping strategies make sense, but they also show how households often must take desperate measures – such as selling productive assets – to survive. Such coping strategies may have long term negative consequences for the ability of households or their children to emerge from poverty. In addition, in a separate survey for Morocco households declared that they had not been able to recover from losses associated with the weather shocks years after the events.

The data also suggest that households are often not able to implement adaptation strategies to deal with extreme weather shocks and a changing environment. For example, some twenty different adaptation strategies were listed in the MENA questionnaires, and only a minority of households declared implementing these strategies. Community and government programs were also scarce, with the exception of a few government-led safety net programs in the Sundarbans.

Decisions to Migrate

One would expect that if households are repeatedly affected by weather shocks, and if they have limited ways to cope and adapt, younger household members would migrate away. The evidence however suggests that households more severely affected by the shocks are not much more likely to send members away than other households.

  • When households are asked in the surveys about the reasons why some of their members migrate temporarily or permanently, reasons directly related to climatic factors such as droughts, floods, or cyclones do not come up much –socio-economic factors, such as better opportunities for employment at the place of destination, are cited much more often.
  • Regression analysis suggests that the impact of perceptions regarding changing climatic conditions as well as actual weather shocks on migration is small. Households who perceive worsening climatic conditions do not have much higher permanent migration rates among their members than households who do not perceive such changing climatic conditions to the same extent. The same holds for the severity of the impact of whether shocks on households – temporary migration is affected (more severely affected households have more temporary migrants), but this is less the case for permanent migration.
  • Analysis of census data suggests that “push” factors such as climatic conditions at the place of origin (temperature and rainfall) affect migration patterns only in a limited way, with again socio-economic “pull” factors at the place of destination playing a much larger role in migration movements.
  • In the MENA region, qualitative focus groups help explain why permanent migration does not seem to be higher amomg households affected more severely by extreme weather events and changes in the climate: many migrants are simply not doing very well at their place of destination.

Overall, these various strands of evidence provide back-up for the argument that many household members in climate-affected areas may be unable or unwilling to migrate away, at least under present conditions. Many households may be trapped where they are with all the risks that this entails as climatic conditions continue to worsen in the future. In the last post in this series, I will discuss the implications of such findings.

Climate Change, Poverty, and Migration, Part 1: A Major Risk

by Quentin Wodon

Members of service clubs involved in international projects (global grants in the case of Rotary), as well as those interested in development and poverty eradication more generally, need to be aware of broad trends affecting the livelihood of the populations they are trying to serve.

In this series of three posts, I will share results from recent research on climate change, poverty, and migration. In this first post, I will outline a basic argument about the risk that the poor may not be willing or able to leave areas affected by the extreme weather events that climate change will exacerbate in the future. In the second post, I will provide evidence to back up this argument from two regions: the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Sundarbans in South Asia. Finally, I will discuss in the third post the implications of the research for policies and programs. For those interested, the details of the analysis are available in two books, one on the MENA region published last year (open access), and the other on the Sundarbans published last month.

Let’s start with the big picture. Climate change is one of the most significant threats faced by the developing world (see for example the Turn Down the Heat reports). By the end of this century, global mean annual temperatures may increase by 4°C.  In many countries climate change will manifest itself through reduced rainfall, greater seasonal temperature variability, a rise in sea levels, and a higher frequency of extreme weather events. These events constitute threats to people’s ability to continue to live where they are living today, their economic security, and political stability.

Declining precipitation will affect the availability and usage of water, causing agricultural productivity to decrease and poverty to rise. Climate change will also lead to a higher likelihood of extreme temperatures, floods, droughts, and cyclones, depending on the geographic area affected, and thereby risks of substantial displacement as well as deteriorating environmental conditions. How climate change will affect specific regions remains debated. But threats to the MENA region – the first area considered here – include more severe droughts and floods as well as rising temperatures and water scarcity. In the Sundarbans, the second area that I will consider, threats include a sea level rise and more frequent and severe cyclones.

Do households living in climate-affected areas in both regions believe that changes in climate patterns and the environment are taking place? To what extent have households been affected by extreme weather events and what has been the impact of these events on them? What are the mechanisms that households use to cope and the strategies that they rely upon to adapt? Do households benefit from community and government programs that can help them cope and adapt? Are they warned ahead of time of weather shocks? To what extent do remittances reach households living in climate-poor areas and what is their impact on poverty and human development indicators? Finally, to what extent are perceived changes in the climate and weather shocks leading to more temporary and permanent migration? These are the questions I will explore.

But first, what does the literature suggest? A recent Foresight report suggests that while environmental change will lead to an increase in migration, because of the complexity of so-called “push” and “pull” factors involved in migration decisions, in most cases it will not be feasible to identify “pure” environmental migrants. The report also suggests that some vulnerable groups may be either unwilling or unable to migrate away from affected areas, among others due to the cost of migration and the fact that environmental change and weather shocks may result in large losses in income and assets, rendering migration unaffordable. Thus, some population groups may well be trapped in climate-affected areas with progressively deteriorating conditions for their livelihood.

In order to explore the relationship between climate change, extreme weather shocks, and migration, we implemented at the World Bank new households surveys in areas affected by weather shocks and changing climatic conditions in seven countries: Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen. The five MENA countries were chosen in order to be illustrative of the region as a whole, with some countries affected mostly and severely by droughts, others by both milder droughts and floods, and still others less affected until now

While the MENA countries are affected mostly by droughts, and to a lower extent floods, the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India (West Bengal) are affected by cyclones, sea water rises, and salinity intrusion in arable land. The contexts in which households are affected by changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events are thus very different in the MENA and South Asia regions. But as it turned out, while circumstances and contexts differ, many of the findings were similar in the two sets of countries. The main conclusions from the analysis can be summarized along three main points as follows:

  • The areas surveyed tend to be repeatedly exposed to weather shocks. Households do perceive a worsening of their environment in terms of the frequency and severity of those shocks. Most households in the areas surveyed have personally been affected negatively and substantially by those shocks, in terms mostly of losses of crops, income, and livestock in the MENA region, and losses in dwellings in the Sundarbans. The poor in both regions typically suffer the most.
  • The ability of households to cope with those extreme weather events and the losses in income, crops, or dwellings that they cause is limited. Relatively few households engage in medium- and long-term adaptation strategies, and remittances, while useful, do not necessarily reach climate-affected areas more than other areas. Support received from communities and government programs is limited, with the exception of safety nets in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Finally the extent to which households are warned ahead of time of imminent shocks differs between areas.
  • As a result of limited ways to cope and adapt, temporary and permanent migration could represent a strategy for household to deal with difficult climatic conditions and extreme weather shocks. The data suggest that today temporary migration is indeed used by affected households to cope and adapt. However the share of the observed temporary migration that can be directly attributed to climatic conditions tends to be small and the link between climatic conditions and permanent migration is even weaker. Essentially, whether this is due to an attachment to their area of origin or a lack of good options at destination for migrants, households who are affected the most by poor climatic conditions and weather shocks do not appear to be sending members away permanently much more than other households living in the same areas but affected less by those shocks. This does not mean that in the future climate-induced migration may not be much higher.

This basic argument, if valid, has implications for development policy in climate-affected areas, and likewise it has implications for the types of projects that service club organizations should implement in those areas. In the next post in the series, I will provide more details on the empirical evidence about the argument outlined above. In the third post, I will discuss implications of this research for development policies and programs, including for service clubs.

Video on Award-Winning Muso: Reducing Child Mortality by a Factor of Ten in Mali

by Quentin Wodon

One of the great Rotary-funded projects that has been featured on this blog is Muso. The NGO has reduced child mortality by a factor of ten in its catchment area in Mali thanks in part to an innovative community health workers model. The project has received several awards as a best practice model for saving lives.

Muso baby

I hope you will enjoy the video on Muso and Rotary’s role in supporting the project now available on this blog here (the video was prepared by one of my daughters using footage made available by the Muso team). A short brief on the Muso model and Rotary’s contribution was published earlier on this blog and is available here.

If you would like to submit a video, brief, or paper on your project for this blog’s series, please send me an email through the Contact Me page.

 

 

Out-of-school Children: A Promise Yet To Be Fulfilled

by Sheena Bell, Friedrich Huebler, and Quentin Wodon

Today, as the Millennium Development Goals draw to a close and the development community is thinking of new development targets, many children are not learning in school. But, in addition, more than 120 million children and young adolescents still remain out of school. That is almost one in ten children of primary school age, and one in seven children of lower secondary school age. For these children, the right to education remains a distant dream.

Perhaps, most alarmingly, data show a steady downturn in the momentum to reach these children. Between 2000 and 2007, substantial gains were made towards universal basic education as tuition fees were abolished, schools were built, and teachers were hired. In absolute numbers, much of the progress achieved in reducing the number of children excluded from school was driven by a small number of countries. In India alone, the number of out-of-school children fell by 16 million between 2000 and 2011, the latest year with available data. Another set of ten countries – Algeria, Burundi, Ghana, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, Yemen and Zambia – were also key contributors. Together, these 11 countries account for more than one-half of the reduction in the global number of out-of-school children since 2000.

But, today, 58 million children between the ages of about 6 and 11 years remain out of school and an additional 63 million adolescents (roughly between the ages of 12 and 15 years) are not enrolled. Since 2007, progress in reducing the global numbers has stopped. As shown in the figure below, the rate of out-of-school children has also remained virtually the same since 2007. Girls, children in poverty, and those living in rural or remote areas are the most affected.

Global out-of-school rate for children of primary & lower secondary school age, 2000-12
Global out-of-school rate for children of primary & lower secondary school age, 2000-12

The latest statistics on out-of-school children are available in a report published in January 2015 by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and UNICEF. While presenting a range of indicators to better identify these children, the report also identifies several barriers to their education. To begin with, one-half of the children out of school live in conflict-affected countries. Gender discrimination continues to be a major factor to the detriment of girls in many countries (although in some countries, especially in the Caribbean, boys lag behind girls). Child labor is also identified as a major problem, while the language of school instruction can be a barrier in many countries, especially for indigenous populations. Children with disabilities continue to be excluded in education systems ill-fitted to meet their needs. All of these factors are exacerbated by poverty. In many countries, low-income households cannot afford the direct costs of sending their children to school (e.g. fees, uniforms or books) or the indirect costs resulting from the lost wages or household contributions of their sons and daughters.

The report is complemented by an innovative data exploration tool that goes beyond the absolute numbers to highlight the critical factors that drive exclusion. In particular, it shows the extent to which factors like gender, location (rural versus urban) and poverty can affect a child’s likelihood to start school late, drop out or even set foot in a classroom. Developed by the UIS, the data tool clearly identifies priorities for any effective policies or interventions to reach these children.

The UIS-UNICEF report provides the most updated information available on out-of-school children globally. It advocates for a combination of supply- and demand-side interventions as well as system-wide policy reforms to help ensure that all children are indeed in school, and calls for a stronger commitment from governments and donors to keep the promise of education for all.

Note: this post was first published on February 23, 2015 on the World Bank Education for Global Development blog.

 

 

Human Rights: Sen’s Approach

by Quentin Wodon

Today is Human Rights Day. The international day was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950 to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations. This year the theme is “Human Rights 365”, with the idea that matters of human rights should concern us every day and that all individuals should be entitled to their rights everywhere and at all times.

But what exactly are human rights? A simple answer would be to say that these are rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other subsequent international legal instruments. But what does it mean, for example, to declare a human right to housing in a country where a larger share of the population may not have access to decent housing? What does it mean to declare a right to work when unemployment affects many? Are these human rights real or simply (but importantly) aspirational? Is there also a risk of inflation over time in the number of human rights being proclaimed? Do human rights matter at all?

These questions should matter for members of service clubs given that much of their work relates to issues that have been identified as pertaining to human rights.  But these are also difficult questions. I am personally sympathetic to the language of human rights (up to a point), and I do believe among others that extreme poverty and deprivation may lead to violations of human rights, as argued among others by Wresinski (see this post on this blog). But it is worth thinking a bit more about the nature of human rights, and on that question I find the position of Nobel Laureate Amartaya Sen sensible (see for example this paper).

Nobel Laureate Amartaya Sen

Sen is perhaps best known today for his work on functionings and capabilities even though he received his Economics Nobel Prize mostly for other work. According to Sen, social justice should aim to expand not basic primary goods (an expression from Rawls, who is discussed here on this blog) that people have access to such as income or wealth, but instead their capabilities – defined as their freedom to achieve valuable beings and doings (i.e., valuable functionings).

The two terms of functionings and capabilities are closely linked. Simply stated, functionings are valuable activities and states that make up people’s wellbeing and ability to function, and that would include an educated mind or being literate. Capabilities are substantive freedoms that people can pursue and enjoy, with each person’s capabilities set depending on their functionings. Capabilities refer to the possibility for people to use functionings to choose and lead lives that are fulfilling for them.

For example, poverty is traditionally defined as a lack of sufficient income or consumption in order to meet a person or household’s basic needs. Sen prefers to define poverty as capability deprivation. More generally, what a person can achieve depends on the specific characteristics and environment of that person, and not only on the resources (or primary goods) that the person has access to. The same amount of all-purpose resources can lead to very different capability sets for different individuals (think of people with a disability for example). Because what is to be valued is the ability of a person to choose different functionings in order to pursue her own path or life goals, it may be better (when feasible) to measure poverty or other forms of deprivation directly in terms of those capabilities than in terms of the resources at a person’s disposal.

Sen also discussed the concept of human rights, and its link to funtionings and capabilities. Sen is sympathetic to the discourse of human rights, but he suggests that they should be seen primarily as ethical demands, rather than legal commands. Human rights imply obligations, some perfect, some imperfect, on the part of societies as well as individuals, in order to ensure that human rights can be exercised by all. The specific contents of human rights, however, is a matter of discussion (or public reasoning) and the understanding of the requirements of a human rights approach may indeed differ between societies, even if the concept of human rights should not (in much the same way, various utilitarian theories may differ in terms of what utility consists in, and how it should be maximized, but these theories still share the utilitarian framework). Sen does not see contradictions between the human rights and capabilities approaches, because human rights can be invoked as ethical claims in order to facilitate the expansion of the capability set of the poor and others facing various forms of disadvantage.

Sen also provides interesting responses to two traditional critiques of the language of human rights: the institutionalization and feasibility critiques. The institutionalization critique refers to the need to have obligations that exactly correspond to each of the human rights, so that a corresponding duty on the part of an agent (which can include the state) can be identified for each right that is claimed. Sen deals with this objection by distinguishing perfect from imperfect obligations, and by noting that even for civil and political rights, the implementation of such rights also involves imperfect obligations. This is essentially pointing to the fact that an exact correspondence between rights and duties is not encountered even for rights that are considered as belonging to a set of fundamental liberties (think of basic civic and political rights such as the right to vote).

The feasibility critique, relates to the fact that the ability to implement specific economic, social and cultural rights in some societies remains limited, say for budgetary or administrative capacity reasons. This is what I was alluding to earlier. While it is true that implementation may be a challenge in many countries, when human rights are seen as aspirational, the aspiration that they represent and the call to action that they imply remain valid. At the same time, not all aspirations need to be recognized as human rights (the risk of an inflation of rights mentioned earlier), and claims to the status of human rights need to sustain public scrutiny and public reasoning before validation.

While not all may share Sen’s views on human rights, they do seem sensible and practical.