Social Policy


Social budgeting

Social protection


Social protection

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1350/Nesbitt
A woman prepares a meal for her son and her sister's two children at their home in Harare, Zimbabwe. The family can only afford to eat one meal a day.

Why are children still out of school in areas where education facilities are available? If antenatal services are free in the local clinics, why are some expectant mothers not seeking them? When disasters strike - droughts, floods, loss of job, civil unrest - what prevents families from meeting their basic needs and taking care of the most vulnerable members of the community, including children, women and the elderly? 

The answers to these questions are complex. They can be related to quality of services, and how they are delivered. They can also be related to vulnerabilities caused by economic or social factors, such as poverty, limited assets, stigma, power imbalances, and social exclusion. 

Social protection, which consists of a set of policies and programmes, is designed to reduce such vulnerabilities. Social protection interventions such as cash transfers, user fee abolition, and anti-discrimination legislation, can not only remove economic and social barriers that prevent women and children from accessing services, but also strengthen the capacity of households to withstand, adapt and mitigate shocks. 

Until recently, social protection had been considered a privilege of developed nations. The countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, however, have decided that social protection is no longer a luxury that they cannot afford. In 2006, 13 countries in the region signed the Livingstone Accord under the auspices of the African Union, committing themselves to developing national social protection strategies and integrating them into their national development plans and budgets.

The Livingstone Accord was followed by the Social Policy Framework for Africa (2008), a signal of increased political commitment from the African nations to social protection. The declarations represented an emerging consensus that a minimum package of essential social protection measures must be in place in every society. For UNICEF, these commitments have opened up new opportunities in the fulfillment of children’s rights to survival, development and protection.

Components of social policy

Social transfers: Predictable direct transfers to individuals or households, both in-kind and in cash, to protect them from the impacts of shocks and support the accumulation of human, financial and productive assets. Examples: cash transfers, in-kind transfers, public works.

Programmes to ensure access to services: Programmes that reduce economic and social barriers households face when accessing social services. Examples: User fee abolition, health insurance, birth registration.

Social support and care services: A range of services that help identify and reduce vulnerability and exclusion, particularly at the child and household level, to improve people's capacity to overcome shocks and strains, and link them to existing programmes and services. Examples: family support services, home-based care.

Legislation and policy reform: Changes to policies and legislation in order to remove inequalities in access to services or livelihoods/economic opportunities, thereby helping address issues of discrimination. Examples: maternity and paternity leave, inheritance rights, employment guarantee schemes.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1247/Pirozzi
A girl sells fruits and peanuts in Soavinandriana District, Itasy Region of Madagascar.

UNICEF in action

Throughout the region, UNICEF supports the governments in the development of national social protection strategies or frameworks, as well as the implementation of social protection programmes and systems, ensuring that they are child-sensitive, inclusive and nationally-owned. Here are some of the key areas that UNICEF focuses on: 

  • Policy, strategy development and reform: In addition to support national governments in developing social protection strategies and frameworks, UNICEF supports reforms in the legal and justice systems so that they are consistent with the international treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

  • Development of integrated social protection systems: Access to services in health, nutrition, education and protection is critical to children’s development, and it also lays the foundation for future human and economic gains. To this end, UNICEF supports countries in their efforts of moving towards a multi-dimensional and coordinated social protection response.

  • Expansion of coverage and promoting government ownership: UNICEF works closely with governments in the region to progressively expand the coverage of their social protection programmes, so that more vulnerable children and women are reached. Ensuring these programme’s sustainability and government-ownership is also a key focus for UNICEF.

  • HIV-sensitive social protection: Evidence shows that social protection interventions, such as cash transfers, impact positively on prevention, access to treatment, as well as mitigating the negative effects of HIV and AIDs on children and their families. Across the region, UNICEF supports the development of national HIV-sensitive policy frameworks [PDF] and interventions. The work is particularly relevant as ESA remains to be the epicentre of the AIDS epidemic.

  • Generating an evidence base: Together with partners, UNICEF supports the Transfer Project, a research initiative that examines the impact of government-sponsored social cash transfer programmes in more than 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Results for children

UNICEF supports governments in ESA in the drafting and revision of comprehensive Children’s Acts to bring national laws and legislations in line with international standards. To date, such Children’s Acts have been drafted and reviewed in Botswana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Tanzania. 

Another important area of UNICEF contribution is cash transfers. With UNICEF support, the following countries have made some of the most noteworthy achievements: 

  • South Africa’s Child Support Grant, introduced in 1998, has become the country’s largest social assistance programme, covering over 10 million children. Originally limited to children under the age of 7 years, the programme has been expanded to cover children up to 17 years of age. Eligible primary caregivers receive a monthly support of about US$28 per child. A recent evaluation [PDF] shows that the Grant directly impacts on poverty and vulnerability reduction, while helps break inter-generational cycles of poverty and exclusion. 

  • In Kenya, UNICEF provides technical and financial assistance to the country’s flagship programme, the Cash Transfer Program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. As of 2013, the programme covers over 155,000 households and 542,000 OVCs across the country. With the support of UNICEF and other key partners, such as the UK and the World Bank, the Government of Kenya is currently starting a major expansion of coverage for all social assistance interventions, as well as moving towards a harmonized social protection system to effectively address multiple vulnerabilities of children and families.

  • In Lesotho, the Ministry of Social Development, the European Union and UNICEF work together in addressing the vulnerabilities of children affected by poverty, exclusion and HIV. The Child Grant Programme, initiated in 2009, has been expanded to cover 50,000 households, up from 5,000. Moreover, the country is moving towards a comprehensive social protection system.

  • In Zimbabwe, during 2013, almost 60,000 children at risk of and exposed to violence, exploitation and abuse received quality support and care, and almost 100,000 children in over 32,000 poorest households were reached with cash transfers under the Child Protection Fund, an aligned funding and technical partnership mechanism for the implementation of the government's National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. The Fund is supported by UNICEF and partners, including the EU, and the governments of Sweden, the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland.



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