Symposium on poverty recommends child-sensitive social protection in South Asia
By Christine Jaulmes
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 21 April 2008 – Policy makers and experts from eight countries met in Dhaka last week for a symposium to address poverty. The symposium focused on how expanded social protection could serve as a strategy to transform social policy and reduce economic and social vulnerability, especially for children.
Those in attendance at the three-day event noted that social protection is a basic human right and that child-sensitive social protection is needed in South Asia – a region that is home to over 600 million children.
“People understand instinctively that all children are born with the same rights and that we have an obligation to protect them,” said UNICEF Programme Division Deputy Director Yoriko Yasukawa. “It is possible to mobilize political will and achieve more social justice by focusing our attention on children.”
One strategy identified to help reduce poverty was the establishment of a basic system of social security for all citizens. In South Asia, this would mean mechanisms such as universal social pensions, child grants and assistance to the unemployed.
It was noted that experiences from various countries show that social protection can have a positive impact on societies and contribute to the overall development of a country.
“Social protection is not just about improving the capacity of people to cope with crisis, but it can help them to anticipate and to become economic players,” said Professor at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex Dr. Naila Kabeer. “Social protection can generate increased productivity, develop human capacity and build voice and citizenship among marginalised groups,” she added.
Speakers at the symposium underlined the point that social protection systems are usually affordable. They cited studies on financing social policies, which show that the share of funds devoted to social protection in developing countries often does not exceed 2 to 5 per cent of the gross domestic product.
“Countries at the same level of economic development differ significantly in their social spending,” said Senior Advisor Isabel Ortiz of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “The size of social protection systems depends as much on a government’s budget as on political attitudes.”
During the concluding session, UNICEF Regional Advisor on Social Policy Gabriele Koehler pointed out the need to develop policies on universal and child-sensitive social protection. She noted that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could also play a leading role.
“One of the pillars of SAARC is poverty alleviation. The right to social protection is enshrined in the SAARC Social Charter,” said SAARC Director of Social Affairs Hassan Shifau. “This should translate into an equitable distribution of income and access to basic social services.”
As an immediate follow-up to the symposium, participants recommended the creation of a South Asian social protection network for knowledge sharing. The network would be composed of governments, academics and others, with a research hub to continue analysis of child-sensitive social protection strategies.