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ILO, UNICEF decry inadequate social protection for children


Children. Photo Shutterstock

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), have decried the lack of access to social protection initiatives by children in most parts of the world. In a joint report, the two United Nations’ agencies said social protection is critical in helping children escape poverty and its devastating effects.

The report says evidence shows clearly that while cash transfers play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability, yet, globally only 35 per cent of children on the average are covered by social protection, which reaches 87 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, 66 per cent in the Americas, 28 per cent in Asia, and 16 per cent in Africa.

At the same time, one in five children lives in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day), and almost half of the world’s children live in ‘moderate’ poverty (under $3.10 a day). Almost everywhere, poverty disproportionately affects children, as they are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty.

The report calls for the rapid expansion of child and family benefits, with the aim of achieving universal social protection for children, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Such benefits are a key element of policies to improve access to nutrition, health and education, as well as reducing child labour and child poverty and vulnerability.

The report notes that universal social protection for children is not a privilege of wealthy countries. A number of developing countries have made or achieved (or nearly achieved) universal coverage, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mongolia, and South Africa.

But in many other countries, social protection programmes for children struggle with limited coverage, inadequate benefit levels, fragmentation and weak institutionalisation. Some governments undergoing fiscal consolidation are even cutting allowances, instead of extending benefits as countries had agreed in the SDGs.

Speaking on the report, the ILO Director of Social Protection, Isabel Ortiz, said: “Child poverty can be reduced overnight with adequate social protection. To improve the lives of all children is an issue of priorities and political will: even the poorest countries have fiscal space to extend social protection floors.”

On his part, the UNICEF Associate Director and Chief of Social Policy, Alexandra Yuster, said: “Poverty hits children the hardest, since its consequences can last a lifetime. The poor nutrition and lost years of education that often result are tragic both for the individual and for his or her community and society. Countries need to put children first and reach every child with social protection to end poverty for good.”

Head of the Social Protection and Social Policy programme at Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Francesca Bastagli, said: “We know that social protection policies and systems can make a big difference and are one of the main instruments available to governments in tackling poverty and inequality and meeting the SDGs.

“It is vital that governments and international organisations recognise the clear evidence emerging in this area. By bringing together government leaders, researchers and practitioners from across the globe, the International Conference on Universal Child Grants is an ideal opportunity for them to engage with this important policy instrument.”

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