United Nations: ‘Governments must strengthen child social protection’
The child-focused agencies of the United Nations say that number of children worldwide without access to social protection continues to rise, putting them at risk of poverty, hunger and discrimination.
An extra 50 million boys and girls aged 15 and under missed out on child benefits between 2016 and 2020, driving up the total to a staggering 1.46 billion worldwide.
A report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), More than a billion reasons, highlights how child and family benefit coverage rates either fell or stagnated in every region of the world during this period.
These shortcomings, they say, make it clear that there is an ‘urgent need to strengthen, expand and invest in child-friendly social protection systems’.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, coverage fell significantly, from around 51 to 42 per cent, whereas rates in Central and Southern Asia hovered around 21 per cent. The failure to provide children with adequate social protection leaves them vulnerable to hardships such as poverty, disease, poor nutrition, and increased risk of child marriage, the UN agencies warned.
They said children are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day – a reality for approximately 356 million youngsters worldwide.
Learning from the pandemic
Around a billion children live in what the agencies call ‘multidimensional poverty’ – defined as communities which do not have access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water. Ranks increased by 15 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing progress in reducing child impoverishment. The report also includes specific references to the experiences of families in urban areas, as opposed to those in rural settings.
The pandemic has also highlighted how social protection is critical in times of crisis, according to the report. Though nearly every government either expanded existing schemes or introduced new measures to support children and families, most fell short of making permanent reforms to guard against future shocks.
Natalia Winder-Rossi, UNICEF Director of Social Policy and Social Protection, said universal child benefit can be a lifeline amid increasing economic hardship, food insecurity, conflict and climate-related disasters.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen, expand and invest in child-friendly and shock-responsive social protection systems. This is essential to protect children from living in poverty and increase resilience particularly among the poorest households,” she said.
For children and families
Policymakers, says the report, must take action towards universal social protection for all children, including investing in benefits that offer proven and cost-effective ways to combat child poverty.
It is also recommended that national and local authorities provide child benefits through national social protection systems that also connect families to crucial health and social services, such as free or affordable quality childcare.
Other recommendations include securing sustainable financing for schemes by mobilizing domestic resources and increasing budget allocation for children, and strengthening social protection for parents and caregivers, including by guaranteeing access to decent work and adequate employee benefits.