Ensuring that no child is left behind
Bangladesh is on track to graduate from the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries list and become a Developing Country by 2026.
Although Bangladesh is enjoying increased prosperity compared to previous years, many children remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and vulnerability.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a further economic blow to many families. According to a joint study by UNICEF and the General Economics Division of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, the pandemic caused the average income of households to drop by an estimated 19 per cent. When families struggle to put food on the table, children are at greater risk of child labour and child marriage.
There are 57 million children in Bangladesh, accounting for 33 per cent of the population. Helping them to reach their potential will be a critical factor in the country’s development and future economic prospects, especially as Bangladesh has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world.
But childhood poverty remains a key challenge. Nationwide 24 per cent of children under the age of 18 live in poverty, and 13 per cent of children live in extreme poverty. Social protection programmes are in place but three-quarters of the poorest and most vulnerable households are not covered by them.
The gaps are particularly acute in cities. Rapid urbanization in Bangladesh means that 35 per cent of its population now lives in cities. However, social security schemes have failed to keep up with this trend. As a result, only 4 per cent of social security schemes are exclusively for urban areas.
Increased frequency and intensity of cyclones and floods that regularly hit Bangladesh push households often to resort to harmful strategies to cope with and adapt to change, such as skipping meals, taking children out of school, early marriage of children and forgoing medical care. The COVID-19 pandemic and weather-induced disasters have highlighted the need to have a social protection system which responds to these shocks by providing support to mitigate risks and protection from falling into poverty due to livelihood loss.
Children represent a significant portion of the population, yet only 15 per cent of the social protection budget is spent on them. There is also not enough focus on women, despite their specific needs. Only 27 out of 120 social protection programmes in 2016/17 had women as the primary focus.
With one in three Bangladeshis currently under the age of 18, it is essential to invest in children now for utilizing the fast-closing window of opportunity to reap the demographic dividend.
UNICEF is working with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that children are at the centre of social policies that are based on solid evidence.
UNICEF’s focus on facts and providing timely data helps policymakers to efficiently and effectively plan allocate and utilize resources for equitable social policies and programmes to better serve children.
UNICEF is also working to strengthen systems and coordinate among multiple agencies and ministries to expand social protection to all children in Bangladesh, particularly the most disadvantaged.