Child development has become one of the central issues in the contemporary global society. However, despite significant progress in the field, the fundamental aspects of social policies related to child development remain subject to debate. The following paper explores the concepts of dimensions of human development used in documents in the social policy domain and argues in favor of a unified set of criteria by distinguishing between needs-, rights- and capabilities-based approaches utilized by global organizations.
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In order to distinguish between the rationales for actions on behalf of children’s development, it is first necessary to determine the meaning assigned to the dimensions of development, as well as the concept of development in general. According to Alkire, such specificity is important since the majority of sources that utilize these concepts rarely specify them, and when they do, the rationales behind the lists are questionable and prone to critique (Alkire 181). In the most basic sense, development can be considered as an expansion of human capability, or the ability to achieve value in functioning (Alkire 184). Importantly, the capability in question is not limited to a specific domain of human activities and can range from the most basic needs related to survival (e.g. the access to clean water and nutrition) to relatively complex social constructs (e.g. the ability to communicate with relatives or eat delicious food).
Based on this concept and the works of other theorists in the field, the author offers a working definition of dimensions of development as “nonhierarchical, irreducible, incommensurable and hence basic kinds of human ends” (Alkire 186). In simpler terms, they can be viewed as defining characteristics of values that determine the quality of life. These characteristics are do not comply with rigid criteria and may manifest in altered forms. In addition, they are not necessarily observed in a fixed combination. Nevertheless, once all manifestations of one of such dimensions are removed completely, the gap becomes immediately apparent on an intuitive level, even despite the fact that no specific definition can grasp the essence of the gap or measure the amount at which it can be observed. The author also roughly outlines the boundaries of dimensions of development by providing the lists offered by other scholars and suggested the possibility to synthesize a universal set based on these lists.
The dimensions of human development are important for measuring the state of well-being of different societies and making appropriate decisions. For this reason, they are incorporated in numerous documents that deal with the matter. For instance, Human Development Report uses one of the manifestations of the concept, commonly referred to as Human Development Index (HDI). In its original version, HDI is comprised of the dimensions of health, education, and living standards, each of which is measured using specific indicators (UNDP 13). However, it is important to note that the approach to measuring the indicators responsible for each dimension differs depending on the country in question and involves a range of variables that are not directly quantifiable (UNDP 15). In addition, the absence of substitutability between dimensions has prompted the revision of the aggregation process in order to achieve greater validity of the results.
The Convention of the Rights of the Child uses a different approach to human development. Specifically, it utilizes a set of criteria based on rights in order to facilitate the development process. For instance, the Convention specifies that every child has a set of inherited rights, such as the right to life, the right to know and be cared for by parents, the right to preserve identity, and the right to freedom of expression, among others (Unicef 75). The Convention also specifies that the identified rights are to be upheld and maintained by all entitled parties without the discrimination of any kind.
As can be seen from the examples above, different approaches to children development are used by different organizations. For instance, the Human Development Report outlines the basic needs of humans, such as health and education, and views development as the availability of means and opportunities to satisfy these needs. It is possible to characterize this perspective as a needs-based approach, which serves as a rationale for responding to the needs by providing the said means. The Convention of the Rights of the Child, on the other hand, provides a comprehensive list of rights and specifies the actions of respective entities that are meant to ensure the upholding of these rights.
This perspective is known as a rights-based approach and has been universally used to facilitate development as well as for a wide range of other purposes. However, it should be noted that rights- and needs-based approaches may reduce clarity of children development initiatives. For instance, it is reasonable to expect a significant difference in the outcomes resulting from the moral underpinnings of the approaches (Alkire and Chen 1070). It is thus reasonable to view needs and rights as entitlement to certain human capabilities, such as life, senses, and emotions, among others. This rationale, known as a capabilities-based approach, offers a more fundamental view of rights and needs but is less rigidly defined and requires value judgment through public debate.
The complexity of the concept of human development has prompted the creation of several distinct approaches. However, despite the methodological improvements in each of these approaches, the currently used ones lack specificity and contain debatable points. Thus, synthesizing a universal set of dimensions of human development may be an important step in adopting a unified rationale for action on behalf of children’s development.
Alkire, Sabina, and Lincoln Chen. “Global Health and Moral Values.” The Lancet, vol. 364, no. 9439, 2004, pp. 1069-1074.
Alkire, Sabina. “Dimensions of Human Development.” World Development, vol. 30, no. 2, 2002, pp. 181-205.
UNDP. Human Development Report 2010: 20th Anniversary Edition. 2010, Web.
Unicef. The State of the World’s Children. 2009, Web.