Working Paper
Constitutional social and environmental human rights and child health outcomes in Latin American countries

This paper analyses the health-improving effects of introducing four different constitutional social and environmental human rights (health, free education, adequate living (or welfare), and environment) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) into national constitution and jurisprudence in Latin America, where human rights litigations are particularly active.

By using retrospective fertility surveys conducted in 15 Latin American countries from the Demographic and Health Surveys, I compare the survival of infants born to the same mother before and after the introduction of four different constitutional human rights and the ACHR.

This is to disentangle the effects of these rights from changes in other country-level characteristics. The major results are as follows.

  1. No constitutional social and environmental rights significantly change the total amount and composition of government spending.
  2. Introducing a right to health into the national constitution is associated with a 2.6 per cent subsequent reduction in infant deaths among poor mothers, but not associated with infant deaths among the general population.
  3. The right to education, welfare, and environment and the ratification of the ACHR are not associated with a subsequent reduction in infant deaths.
  4. The effects of a right to health are robust after allowing for total government spending and its composition (health, education, and social security and welfare spending), which indicates that the allocation of government health spending—rather than an absolute amount of spending induced by the constitutional right to health—might be important to reduce infant deaths among poor mothers.