Shielding children from the lifelong effects of poverty
Families in Afghanistan are being crushed by crippling poverty and hunger.
For millions of children and women, this reality is only compounded by factors like drought, natural disasters, and the remnants of conflict. Even before the recent political and socio-economic upheaval, an estimated 58 per cent of children were living in monetary poverty, and 56 per cent of children were living in multi-dimensional poverty.
What is multi-dimensional poverty?
When we think of poverty, we think of a lack of money. But to experience multi-dimensional poverty is to suffer multiple disadvantages at the same time. For example, a child's parents may lack money, but the child may also have poor health or malnutrition, or a lack of clean water, or no education.
Focusing on just one factor to define poverty – like income – is not enough to understand the true impact that poverty can have on the well-being and rights of a child.
Rising poverty in Afghanistan
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that around 97 per cent of Afghans have plunged into poverty as of mid-2022, up from 47 per cent in 2020. And in the current context, child poverty in Afghanistan is expected to rise even further. This is particularly dangerous for women and girls, who face the serious risk of losing their rights and access to essential services.
Child poverty in Afghanistan is expected to rise. This will be particularly dangerous for women and girls, who especially face the serious risk of losing their rights.
The impact of the current socioeconomic crisis has nearly obliterated families' coping mechanisms. Child labour and early marriage is rising. With the economy and many public service sectors on the verge of collapse, often because public servants are not getting paid, Afghanistan's people face an uncertain future.
In 2023, UNICEF is appealing for US$ 210 million for cash transfers to families in Afghanistan. With this assistance, UNICEF aims to address the underlying drivers of poverty, so that every child has a positive start in life.
This ambitious strategy has two objectives:
- Address the financial barriers that families face which prevent them from meeting their children's needs, throughout their lives, and ensure families can access basic services in the short and long term
- Create and leverage opportunities to empower women and girls
Cash transfers are a proven mechanism to address poverty and the factors which cause it. UNICEF provides cash transfers to the families in Afghanistan who need it most, so they can purchase food, clothing, school supplies, transportation and healthcare as they need it, fulfilling their children's rights, meeting their basic needs, and breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.
UNICEF aims to reach 519,000 households - with each household averaging 7 people - with cash transfers by 2025. These cash transfers target families in the 10 poorest provinces of Afghanistan.
The cash transfer programme has five main components:
- Regular cash transfers: Provided monthly to families so they can meet their basic needs, address the underlying cause of poverty, and help build a safety net against emergencies and shocks which may stress their financial resources.
- Emergency cash transfers: Provided as needed to provide acute, short-term financial support so families can cope with the impact of drought, earthquakes, severe winter conditions, and other emergencies. These cash transfers are provided as a top-up to the regular cash transfers. They can also be expanded to include more households, as needed, on a temporary basis.
- Complementary services to accompany cash transfers, sharing information with women about the importance of healthcare and check-ups during pregnancy, and about good nutrition for their babies and young children.
- Gender-sensitive cash transfer processes, such as facilitating women's transportation to cash distribution sites, or holding cash distributions in health facilities where women can easily access them. UNICEF will also help establish safe spaces for women to gather and seek information, and our implementing partners will be trained to help prevent and mitigate sexual exploitation and abuse.
- Evidence generation, so UNICEF can measure and quantify the impact of cash transfers, and better understand if they are effective at reducing poverty in Afghanistan.
Donors and partners
UNICEF is grateful for the generous contributions of donors who support social protection in Afghanistan, including:
- European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO)
- United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA)
- Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)
- The Government of Germany Federal Foreign Office, Auswärtiges Amt (AA)
- The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
- The Government of Australia
UNICEF also appreciates donor partners who contribute to UNICEF Regular Resources and Thematic Funds. This flexible funding is critical in implementing sustainable and innovative programmes for children in Afghanistan.