Karie Cross

Karie Cross (Backward Society Education - BASE): Karie studied English and political science at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, where she graduated with honors. In Arkansas she also interned in Governor Mike Beebe's communications office. At the time of her fellowship, Karie was working on a Master’s of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, with a specialization in International Development. Karie also served as a teaching assistant at the University of Maryland. After her fellowship, Karie wrote: "I feel as if I should never be afraid of anything ever again. I have gained confidence, cultural sensitivity, networking skills, technical skills and self-sufficiency. I see myself as someone who can really make a difference. All I have to do is have the strength to try something new."

Applying Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach to BASE’s Child Friendly Village Model

08 Aug

We humans cannot help but see the world through the lens of our particular worldviews.  Even though I am literally half a world away from my school, my views of development work in Nepal have been colored primarily by my ongoing studies at the University of Maryland on Amartya Sen’s capability approach (largely thanks to the influence of my outstanding development ethics professor, Dr. David Crocker). 

Amartya Sen (Photo by Stephanie Mitchell, taken from the Harvard Gazette)

The more I learn about Child Friendly Villages, the easier it becomes to distinguish the extent to which this model for fighting against child labor follows Sen’s emphasis upon capability and agency.

Here is a snapshot of Sen’s philosophy and the way it has been carried out by BASE’s Child Friendly Village initiative.  

  Sen’s Philosophy[1] Application to Child Friendly Village
Functioning Current state and activity of well-being Children should never be child laborers, but the absence of child labor is not enough
Capability The presence of real opportunity to change the status quo Education must be universal so that all children have real opportunities to further themselves
Individual Agency The freedom to pursue goals that a person has reason to value, even if that goal does not improve his or her personal well-being Child Friendly Villages consist of individuals acting to pursue their own goals; this may include parents who deprive themselves of certain things so that they are not forced to send their children into urban areas to become bonded laborers
Group Agency Democratic deliberation is the best way for an entire group to exercise its agency and realize its own goals Child Friendly Villages are created only upon community demand; within each CFV, Child Clubs allow children to unify and make their voice a major part of the discussion about their fate

You may not believe that Sen’s idea of development as freedom is the best way to go about development, but I find that his approach’s emphasis upon human beings, rather than economic growth, is an important distinction that is too often overlooked.  Even though the World Bank reports favorable economic growth and a reduction in poverty from 42% to 31% in Nepal (1995-2004),   Nepal’s HDI (Human Development Index) numbers  indicate that its citizens still have huge numbers of unmet needs, as it is ranked 115th on life expectancy at birth (66.3 years), 130th on adult literacy rate (56.5%), and 136th on gross enrollment rate in schools (60.8%). 

Economic growth tends to register as positive social change, but that is not always the case (such as in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile).  At any rate, growth alone must not be equated with development when human beings, or the rightful ends of development (as opposed to mere means), suffer poor literacy, low life expectancy, and little opportunity to bring about positive change in their own lives.

This empasis on social change at the individual level is why I respect the Child Friendly Village model so much.  Not only is it creating real change by lowering the number of child laborers in Nepal (481 children freed in 2009, according to the BASE Child Friendly Village Concept Paper), but it is also ensuring that the next generation of Nepali parents will be well-educated and committed to keeping their children at home instead of sending them away to earn money.  By promoting the current capabilities of children, the CFV model expands the future freedom and agency of all of its citizens. 

[1] Ideas taken from David Crocker and Ingrid Robeyns, “Capability and Agency,” in Amartya Sen, ed. Christopher Morris, (New York: Cambridge UP, 2010), 60-90.

Posted By Karie Cross

Posted Aug 8th, 2010


  • Pam

    August 9, 2010


    I can see the value in Sen’s approach. I like the idea of emphasizing the individual. However, it seems that it must go hand in hand with overall economic growth so that when these children achieve their personal goal of getting an education they can follow that up with a way to earn a living as an adult. Of course BASE with its limited resources can only focus on one aspect of the problem and the Child Friendly Villages seem to be an excellent method for helping these kids to have a chance at a better future. Good for them.

  • Stacy

    August 9, 2010


    Great post, Karie. @Pam and Karie: Karie’s argument does not preclude economic development; it emphasizes that it should be a means to improving people’s lives, not an end in and of itself. I think the link you’re both missing is in the definition of “capability” in Sen’s sense. If Karie is arguing that “good” development should focus on expanding individuals’ real capabilities (rather than on economic development as an ends in itself), then the presence of real opportunities in the child’s future is part of the equation. Education does not offer greater capabilities (ie, opportunities, well-being freedoms) if it cannot help the learner achieve some of her goals. Education, like economic development, is a tool. It is not itself, in a vacuum, capability enhancement or a guarantee of a better life. This is part of the beauty of this way of thinking about development: it makes us think holistically. (“Okay, we are on track to achieve universal primary education. What else do we need to do to ensure that these kids’ lives actually improve? Oh! We need to work on job creation! And they’ll need better roads to get to work…” etc, etc…)

  • Mick

    August 17, 2010


    I see a parallel to the ‘Nature v. Nurture’ argument. Think of education as the nature part of the argument; it’s the underlying foundation that has to be in place. But, what is the nurture part? These children need not only access to education, they need teachers, parents, community members who are directly engaged in building upon the base. Teach a lesson – but follow up with an opportunity to apply it. Explain that there is a horizon – but provide a means to explore it.

  • Owen

    August 24, 2010


    Not to mention, maybe that decrease in the poverty levels came due to more parents sending their kids out to work (and this added income pulls the family out of the “poor” category)?

    Or in China, where the country is booming, but there is mass flooding, poisoned rivers, people dying due to inferior products, 9 day long traffic jams, etc…

    The only reason economic development remains a measure of anything is because the developed world can make money off of poorer countries “developing”, and because it gives the World Bank something to measure… 🙂

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