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© UNICEF/2014

Child and gender-sensitive social protection reform gathers pace in the Eastern Caribbean

BARBADOS, 2 April 2014 - Several Eastern Caribbean countries are embarking on new social protection programmes and strategies aimed at ensuring that scarce resources reach children and families who need assistance most.

The 2014 Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Council of Ministers for Human and Social Development has come up with a number of recommendations to drive social protection programmes with a sharpened focus on moving from a system of mere “hand-outs” to a system of “extending a hand-up.” They are hoping that this will cause a shift from social welfare to empowerment of vulnerable and disadvantaged populations to break intergenerational cycles of poverty.

Additionally at the national level, Grenada this month launched its National Social Safety Net Policy Framework just a year after St. Kitts and Nevis launch its National Social Protection Policy, while St Lucia is among countries finalizing a clear social protection policy and strategy.

The new momentum builds on social safety net assessments which UNICEF, UNWOMEN and the World Bank jointly executed in four Eastern Caribbean countries in 2009 and 2010. These assessments, along with other studies, concluded that up to 60 per cent of the income poor in the OECS are children under the age of 18 years.

These children are most often living in single-headed households (primarily heeded by women) or in household whereby the caregivers are working but are still poor or have no employment.

In recognition of this the Council of Ministers has noted that social protection policies and programmes must be child and gender responsive in order to address identified risks and vulnerabilities in member states from a life cycle perspective.

The Council, which met in St Kitts and Nevis earlier this month, said countries in the nine-member OECS grouping could learn best practices from each other as some countries were already in the process of implementing social protection reforms.

Speaking at the recent launch of the Launch of the National Social Safety Net Policy Framework and Development Partners Round Table Conference in St. Georges, Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell underscored the importance of the state forming partnerships to provide security for the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens.

“With the implementation of this strategy, Government is committing to early intervention instead of taking reactive approaches. The social policy is an investment in the future of Grenada. There are children with tremendous capacity to excel but because of socioeconomic status, or lack of proper care are unable to even attend school; yet learn.

“The Social Framework also ensures that Grenada is honouring its commitment to the rights of our people, for which we have signed up under the UNCRC, and other such conventions,” the Prime Minister added.

UNICEF Deputy Representative Violet Speek-Warnery said the prolonged economic difficulties being faced by several Eastern Caribbean countries provided a good platform to design more evidence-informed social protection programmes and strategies.

“It is therefore more important than ever teo provide evidence and data on the situation of the most disadvantaged, empirically showing results of social sector policies and programmes, cutting those programmes that do not show these results and presenting the return of budgetary investment.

“It is in many cases not necessarily about expanding existing human and social development services and programmes, but about better targeting, consolidating and harmonizing overlapping programmes, cutting the multiple administrative costs, strengthening the response capacity and investing in real-time data collection and M&E systems to be able to reach more children and their families that need it,” Speek-Warnery added.

UNICEF, UNWOMEN, and other development partners, will continue to support countries to implement their child and gender-sensitive social protection reforms to ensure that all girls and boys can reach their full potential equitably.

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