• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Monday 21st July, 2008

Learning from turning the compass

Whatever their economic situation, children are more alike than they are different. Few of the causes of impairments to health and development are specific to the Global South and, while there is always scope for cultural adaptation, few interventions are useful only to one part of the planet. Those in the South, furthermore, have much to teach their more fortunate neighbors. There is good scientific evidence on how children deal with extreme events such as war, catastrophic accident – as in Chernobyl for example – or the ravages of disease. There is a growing literature on the effectiveness of prevention programs in the South, and their preoccupation with the ordinary practicalities of life – preparing children ready for school, keeping them in education and improving their mental health – makes them surprisingly similar to those emanating from the West. What makes the Global South different is the scale on which any intervention needs to operate. Westerners may worry about sporadic knife crime in London or gun crime in Los Angeles; in the South the focus is more likely to be on the recruitment of children into armies. The West may worry about school achievement; in India and elsewhere Rukmini Banerji is screening tens of thousands of children to establish who can read and write – and to respond to the needs of those who cannot. [See Does community action hold the final ten per cent solution? .]We know about China’s frenzied economic growth, but the country’s attempt to prevent children from taking up cigarette smoking claims rather less attention here. Similarly, India’s burgeoning economy has been extensively reported in the West, but hardly anybody has written about the benefits to children’s health that have followed better distribution of wealth in the United Arab Emirates [See Inequality says more than wealth about children's well-being .]This week’s special edition signals Prevention Action’s interest in learning from the experience of the Global South. Tomorrow, we hear from Emma Crewe, Director of ChildHope, a UK Charity working in partnership with Southern non-governmental organizations to prevent violence against children. Against the backdrop of an apparent failure to meet internationally supported goals to improve the well-being of children in the South, she makes the case for increasing the involvement of the people closest to the problems. On Wednesday, we consider the incidence of mental health problems in children across the world, drawing on evidence from reliable measures such as the ASEBA and SDQ. The article examines the arguments of those who question the value of Western mental health constructs in the Global South context.On Thursday we turn to the work of Felton Earls and the principles of collective efficacy – the argument that members of a community can work together for a common purpose and can help each other to solve typical problems. The context is AIDS-ravaged Tanzania.Our insights into these issues owe much to the annual research review of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which this year took a global perspective on child and adolescent mental health.ReferencesJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 3, 2008, Annual Research Review

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