In a context of systematic and multiple diversion of donor funds to other purposes and for personal benefit, transparency and accountability is both highly important and highly sensitive. This is a general challenge with development cooperation in Laos, and the EU is not more or less active than the other donors in trying to ensure that its funds are not misused.
The Lao leadership tends not to consult beyond the state apparatus, and expects the population to passively accept government decisions. CSOs therefore systematically propose that donors accompany their major projects with specific components that will ensure engagement with communities to ensure that they know about planned and ongoing projects, are consulted, and are able to express their concerns and proposals.
At the operational level, the GoL finds it much easier to accept DP and INGO findings that use different indicators than GoL. But where DPs and INGOs use indicators that overlap or mirror GoL indicators, any discrepancy, and the arguments based on it, tend to be rejected.
The EU has provided very limited support to efforts to reduce trafficking, and may wish to increase its attention to this theme. The GoL seems unwilling to acknowledge and confront the scale of trafficking, or the persistent anecdotal evidence of an expansion of child commercial sexual exploitation in Laos. ASEAN integration is likely to accelerate both phenomena. Multiple stakeholders alleged that relevant findings had been supressed, and even that organisations had been instructed to avoid public discussion of these themes. Since CSOs are generally reluctant to jeopardise their operational capacity by confronting the GoL on issues that have been politicised in this way, the EU may wish to consider commissioning a study that can ensure the anonymity of respondents.
3.1.2. Conclusions regarding the Lao Party-state and development cooperation
Some child rights themes have become less taboo in recent years, including violence and disability. However, the GoL continues to limit and discourage many aspects of work on child rights themes.
Child rights should not be perceived as an uncontroversial cluster of sub-sectors where it is easy to intervene even when the partner government is authoritarian or defensive or suspicious. While it may well be easier to advance some child rights than some civil and political rights, many aspects of child rights may be perceived as threatening by authoritarian regimes, and barriers to access, research, networking and implementation may be considerable.
Because EU Human Rights strategies require a hierarchisation and prioritisation of concerns, the various human rights issues compete for attention. This is particularly true in countries with many human rights challenges. The inclusion of child rights in EU Human Rights strategies depends on several factors, including the extent to which child-focused CSOs are consulted by the EU and the MS, the awareness of child rights issues among EUD and MS political staff and ultimately the Heads of Mission, and the awareness of child rights issues among EUD operational staff who may be involved as resource persons in the preparation of these strategies.
Some stakeholders in Laos suggested that the more serious and complex the human rights situation in a country, the greater the risk that child rights will not be prioritised. However, the high level of inclusion of child rights in Africa may suggest a different dynamic.
3.1.3. Conclusions regarding civil society engagement for child rights in Lao PDR
Although DPs generally recognise that CSO projects have higher impact on child rights than funding targeting GoL agencies, the share of funds allocated to CSOs remains low. This may reflect DP perceptions that by providing generous financial support to GoL they are achieving other, intangible benefits, or that the ‘capacity development’ of GoL will eventually show positive results.
There is considerable potential to increase cooperation with CSOs. The GoL recognises the value-added of CSOs in service delivery that is complementary to the limited state provision, particularly in sectors and themes that address national development goals.
CSOs have been relatively successful in developing strategies and methodologies that can have an impact at the village, community and district level. Ways to upscale these successes could be explored.
International CSOs working in Laos believe that they could implement larger and more complex projects, with larger budgets and longer duration than at present. International CSOs are required to work in collaboration with Lao authorities and in most cases also work with Lao CSOs. The EU could design future CfP so as to reinforce and optimise this collaboration.
3.1.4. Conclusions regarding the mainstreaming of child rights in EU development cooperation in Lao PDR
Several CSOs working in Laos referred positively to the Australian DFAT Child Protection Policy, and suggested that the EU consider developing child protection guidelines, with a view to making these binding for implementing partners.
CSOs suggest that minimum standards and child protection safeguards be developed for the EU focal sectors of education and nutrition, and that enhanced independent monitoring is embedded in these sector approaches. Such monitoring should engage the local populations and promote their active participation. This would require working outside, but in collaboration with GoL.
 See http://aid.dfat.gov.au/aidissues/childprotection/Pages/home.aspx, accessed 25/11/2014