|Adult siblings in an extended family in Zambia struggle to support 12 orphaned children, including the children of a brother who died of an AIDS-related illness.|
NEW YORK, USA, 29 September 2009 – On the eve of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that the near- and working poor in developing nations would be the hardest hit by the worldwide recession.
In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the economic crisis arrives on top of an AIDS epidemic that has already pushed many families and communities to the brink. Children, in particular, are vulnerable when family members fall ill or die, or if they are living with HIV themselves.
Beginning last week, as world leaders gathered at UN headquarters in New York to discuss the viability of financial bailouts around the world, advocates were pushing for child-sensitive, AIDS-inclusive social protection to be included in their agenda.
To help explain what this means in practice, a UNICEF/UN Radio podcast discussion recorded recently in New York – one in a series of podcasts on children and AIDS – brings together two guests who have devoted their careers to social protection for vulnerable children: Linda Richter, Executive Director of Child, Youth, Family and Social Development at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, and Ahmed Hussein, Director of Children’s Services for the Government of Kenya.
Help for AIDS-affected families
In Kenya, approximately 2.5 million children have lost one or both parents to a range of causes, about half of them as a result of AIDS. However, the vast majority of these children continue to live with their extended families.
In response to this situation, Kenya began a cash transfer programme for orphans and other vulnerable children in 2004. It was one of the first of its kind in Africa. The aim, Mr. Hussein explains, was to give families the basic financial means to sustain themselves and care for their children.
Because the number of affected children is high and resources are limited, the average family receives the equivalent of only about $23 each month, he says.
The important point, Ms. Richter argues, is that cash supplements make tough decisions over necessities much easier. Though the transfers are small, they mean that parents don’t have to cut back on consumption of basic items, she says, adding: “Families use this money to buy food – and that can only be good for children.”
For families saddled with the severe costs associated with HIV and AIDS, the need for a financial buffer is especially apparent.
In a position to deliver
Social protection is not a new concept. It is an approach that aims to reduce vulnerability and exclusion in a society through various interventions, such as income transfers to the poorest, improved social services, supportive policies and actions to tackle stigma and discrimination.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, social protection initiatives are growing but not yet commonplace. Still, many lessons have already been learned.
When the cash transfer programme started in Kenya, Mr. Hussein says, “we were thinking of orphans and vulnerable children as a result of HIV and AIDS.” Since then, the programme has been expanded to include all at-risk children, including those who have lost parents to causes other than AIDS, and those living in the most impoverished communities.
From the outset, Mr. Hussein stresses, it is necessary to garner political support and define the group that needs to be reached. Necessary technical and human capacity must be in place, he says, so that providers are “in a position to deliver the resources, the services to the people who need it most.”
Ms. Richter highlights the importance of having a government-led effort in Kenya, supported by an array of contributions from the community and international levels. “Many countries will look to Kenya to learn from [its] experience,” she says.
‘Investing in people’
In April of this year, at the G-20 London Summit, leaders of the world’s largest economies pledged $50 billion for social protection in the developing world. The idea has also gained support from leaders throughout the African Union.
As political momentum grows, time will show how donors and governments invest in social protection – and whether they will make children a key part of it.
But in the face of unprecedented economic challenge, what case can be made for social protection for children and their families as a worthwhile expenditure?
Ms. Richter has an answer: “One of the reasons why African governments are responding to the need for social protection is … they find themselves carrying large sections of the population who cannot benefit from economic growth. We’ve all realized that investing in human capital, investing in people as the fundamental part of human society, is critical.”
The following external links open in a new window:
Podcast series on children and AIDS