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Policy-makers gather to discuss social protection strategies in South Asia

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2008/Kiron
Dr A. B. Mirza Azizul Islam, Hon. Advisor for Planning and Finance at the opening of the South Asia policy- makers’ Symposium on Social Protection organized by UNICEF

UNICEF organizes a regional symposium to address poverty and inequality through adequate social protection policies and systems

Dhaka, 15 April 2008. Policy-makers from eight countries of South Asia today gathered in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to  examine the role that Social Protection could play in reducing poverty and inequalities in the region during a policy-makers’ Symposium on Social Protection organized by UNICEF from 15 to 17 April 2008. About seventy senior Government’s officials, representatives of international NGOs and development agencies, leading academic institutions researchers and experts will discuss how social protection systems, legislation and policies can contribute to the achievement of MDGs and more specifically how they can fulfill the rights of the child in a region where children remain particularly vulnerable to social deprivation and disparities.
 The Symposium was officially opened by the Adviser for Finance and Planning, Government of Bangladesh, Mr A.B.M Azizul Islam, in the presence of UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Mr Daniel Toole and Mr Hassan Shifau, Director Social Affairs, SAARC.
Although poverty rates in South Asia have decreased remarkably for the region as a whole, over 400 million people remain under the poverty line – representing almost 40% of the world’s poor. South Asia has the highest underweight prevalence among children under five globally. Moreover, despite unprecedented economic growth rates, inequality and disparities for various social indicators have been increasing. The benefits of economic growth have been unequally distributed among the various groups in society. Today rising food prices are posing new challenges for the region’s poor.
‘Women and children, and notably those excluded from resources, incomes and social services, are the most affected by the disconnect between high economic growth rates and low progress on human development indicators’, says Mr Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. ‘For children, the “disconnect” is often one that jeopardises their future irreversibly.’
 Social protection is more and more seen as an adequate strategy to address poverty, income inequality, social exclusion, and to transform society. At global level, civil society and a number of UN agencies are advocating for a global minimum income or ‘social floor’ which would offer to all citizens in a country pensions for the elderly and the disabled, conditional support for the unemployed, and basic income security for all children through child benefits. Basic health care provision and inclusive primary education are other elements of such a basic social floor.
In South Asia, many countries have introduced systems of social protection. Recent examples include the Government of Pakistan’s Social Protection Strategy to Reach the Poor and the Vulnerable; India’s Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill 2007; the Social Pension System in Nepal; the draft Social Protection Strategy in Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy.  Social protection schemes have been shown to make a tangible difference.  One of the most well-known cash transfer schemes in South Asia – Bangladesh’s Female secondary education programme - has contributed to increasing secondary school enrollment - retention rate of girl students almost doubled since its introduction in 1994. 
The Symposium represents a unique opportunity to share these initiatives and to identify ways to further strengthen and scale up social protection systems in South Asia, with a particular focus on children. As the world prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every child should have access to minimum social protection as a basic right.

For more information, contact:
• Christine Jaulmes, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Bangladesh. Tel: 9336701-10/Ext. 209. E-mail:  



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