Investing in children is essential both for the socio-economic development of the region and for its political stability.
The Eastern and Southern Africa region is witnessing a historic demographic change. The child population of the 21 countries in the region is expected to expand by more than 60 per cent, from 230 million in 2015 to almost 400 million in 2050.
A rapidly growing child population in the region calls for more investment in key social sectors. Investing in children is essential both for the socio-economic development of the region and for its political stability.
Because of a rapidly expanding population, more children in the region are growing up in poverty than in 1990. Child poverty includes monetary and non-monetary dimensions – defined as deprivations of rights and access to critical services in key sectors, such as health, nutrition, education, wash (water, sanitation and hygiene), and child protection.
At the global level, social protection is increasingly recognized as a means to address poverty and vulnerability. The Sustainable Development Goals include a dedicated target on social protection.
At the same time, it is important to overcome some of the myths surrounding this approach, including concerns around cost, effective targeting, suitability for use in developing country contexts, as well as increased dependency and any potential adverse impact on the work ethic.
Over the past 10 years, countries in the region have made considerable progress in designing, implementing and expanding social cash transfer schemes for the most vulnerable families. Evidence collected through the Transfer Project demonstrates the positive impact of social cash transfers on reducing monetary and non-monetary dimensions of poverty among children.
While cash transfers have a positive impact on poverty reduction, they should not be seen as a “magic bullet”.
Effective social protection relies on linkages and coordination between the health, nutrition and social welfare sectors. Cash transfers are most effective when paired with complementary interventions which link these to critical services for children and families (Cash Plus).
Countries which have committed to social protection continue to face challenges in delivering effective programmes. Among these are: inadequate funding for social protection programming; low coverage and fragmentation of interventions; weak coordination across different levels of government; and limited monitoring and evaluation capability. In addition, the absence of an indexing mechanism to account for inflation means the impact of cash transfers on child poverty reduction is diluted over time.
In addition, UNICEF efforts have largely focused on cash transfers at the expense of other critical areas of social protection, both in terms of contributory and non-contributory social protection interventions.
Fragility and frequent shocks affecting many countries in the region exacerbate the need for robust social protection systems. Experience shows that existing social protection systems in countries affected by recent shocks lacked the functionality to be easily expanded to support the most vulnerable families in times of shock, and so system strengthening will remain a key priority for the region.
Designing social protection legislation, policies and strategies
UNICEF supports governments to develop and/or update child-sensitive national social protection policies and/or strategies that explicitly consider the special conditions and needs of children on the move, girls, and children in urban areas, where relevant, as well as traditionally vulnerable child populations. Support to governments to undertake costing exercises and develop investment cases for social protection, to inform the development of fiscally sustainable policies is a critical element.
Building effective and child-sensitive social protection systems
Tools for effective social protection systems include management information, single registries, case management, referrals, monitoring and evaluation, and grievance redress procedures. UNICEF works with partners to strengthen national and subnational coordination mechanisms for social protection programming, including linkages to national disaster management or cash coordination bodies, where possible.
Financing social protection
UNICEF supports governments to mobilize domestic resources for social protection financing, through fiscal space analysis for social protection and other methods. Throughout the region, UNICEF works with governments to undertake costing exercises and investment cases for social protection, to inform the development of fiscally-sustainable policies.
Scalable and shock-responsive social protection systems and programmes
UNICEF advocates with governments and donors to set aside contingency budgets for scalable social protection responses, emphasizing the role of social protection systems in bridging the humanitarian–development divide. UNICEF works closely with partners to strengthen national management information systems to be more comprehensive and contain, either directly or through linkages with other management information systems, data on core issues of humanitarian concern.