Social Policy and Social Protection
UNICEF works to generate evidence on child development, advocate for greater child-focused public and private investment, strengthen child-friendly local government institutions and evaluate social protection programmes for children and households
Strengthening social protection and increasing investment for children
India expanded social protection programmes substantially in 2020–2021, including the Maternity Benefit Programme to address the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With over 206 million individuals covered, India's Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) programme is the world's largest COVID-related cash transfer scheme. (Source)
India also offered financial assistance and supported the education and health of children who lost their parents and caregivers due to COVID-19 through the Pradhan Mantri Cares for Children scheme.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for strengthened consolidation, coordination and increased financing for expanded coverage of national and state social protection programmes. While simultaneously increasing access to migrant families; and ensuring that social protection programmes are child and gender-responsive, climate-adaptable, and shock-responsive.
One of the critical challenges is the lack of awareness and access to some significant social protection schemes, especially among the most vulnerable families, female-headed households, and the urban poor.
The country has achieved a significant reduction in the multi-dimensional poverty rate, from 55 per cent (2005–2006) to 28 per cent (2015–2016), with 35 per cent among children. But persistent caste and gender inequality have contributed to the disproportional impact of poverty on women and girls.
In India, close to 12 per cent of the population live in female-headed households, which have a higher Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) value than male-headed households [Source]. Sixty per cent of all multi-dimensional poor are found in households where no female member has completed six years of schooling. Over 40 per cent belong to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.
Almost 90 per cent of people work in the informal economy in India, with the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimating that about 400 million informal economy workers, especially women, were at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the COVID-19 crisis.
The highest poverty level is in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. Many of the workers were forced by lockdown measures to return to rural areas. (Source) Today, urbanization is projected to rise from 35 per cent (2021) to 44 per cent (2036).
India is the world's sixth-largest economy, covering 18 per cent (1,393 million) of the world's population, including 460 million children. Overall, children's share in the Union Budget at 4.5 per cent in 2014/15 had fallen to 2.4 per cent in 2022/23, short of the 5 per cent target set in the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016.
India spends 3.8 per cent of its GDP on education (an international average of 3.7per cent). India spends a low 1.0 per cent of GDP on health (global average 9.8per cent) [Source], with corresponding high out-of-pocket health expenditures.
Children with disabilities make up almost one-third of out-of-school children, with more girls than boys with disabilities out of school[Source]. Nearly one in five adolescent girls (15-19 years) (17.7%) reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, with available data indicating a higher prevalence among scheduled caste and tribe populations.
According to UNICEF's Children's Climate Risk Index 2021, India is amongst the top 26 countries globally whose children are at extremely high risk of significant climatic events, which are forecast to occur at greater intensities and frequencies over the coming two decades[Source].
All of this speaks to the need for significant and durable investments in social services, shock responsive and inclusive social protection measures and effective local governance that is child and gender friendly.
The UNICEF India Country Programme 2023–2027 aims to support the Government of India to reach all children, including adolescents – especially the most vulnerable – to realize their rights, with an opportunity to develop to their full potential in an inclusive and protective society.
The Social Policy and Social Protection programme is one of six sectoral components of UNICEF's country programme, together with health, nutrition, education; child protection; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), climate change and environmental sustainability.
Our approach focuses on providing technical assistance as a partner to the Government to better design, deliver and evaluate national social protection programmes aimed at women, children and households. We also advocate for more significant public investment in children, strengthening local government institutions, and developing evidence on child deprivation to expand social protection services to the last mile.
UNICEF is building a consensus-based multi-dimensional child development (deprivation and vulnerability) measurement to prioritize child-focused public policy responses. To strengthen better social services delivery systems, UNICEF is prioritizing building interoperability among child-sensitive data systems, including national identity systems, including the Civil Registry and Vital Statistics (CRVS).
We engage with evidence generation, advocacy and capacity building to institutionalize child and gender-sensitive budgets at all levels of governance. With thorough spending efficiency analyses, outcome-based and sector budgets, SDG budgets and innovative financing options, we aim to drive home an investment case for enhanced fiscal envelopes for child-related social protection and social services.
UNICEF promotes integrated, universal and child-sensitive government social protection programmes, including gender responsive cash plus nutrition and early childhood development (ECD) programmes and adolescent targeted outcomes to address gender inequality and inequity-driven vulnerabilities.
These include maternity benefits programmes (like the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana or PMVVY), livelihood schemes (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or MGNRGES), and universal and conditional child cash transfers programmes.
Ongoing challenges include ensuring an inclusive socio-economic recovery in which social protection programmes are shock responsive, not only to mitigate the adverse impact of shocks like COVID-19 and climate change but also to build resilience to enable communities to cope better. To this end, UNICEF also supports technical assistance on government Humanitarian Cash Transfers.
UNICEF recognizes that accountable and participatory local governance is vital to delivering practical, inclusive and efficient social services. UNICEF works to strengthen local government capacity to better plan, budget, implement and monitor services for children and women; and institutionalize the participation of children, adolescents and young people in local planning and budgeting processes.
Building Urban Local Body capacity to strengthen urban databases for children and prioritize public health, nutrition, education, child protection, WASH and social protection for the urban poor is a priority. 'Child-Friendly Villages' (also known as Child-Friendly Gram Panchayats) is a crucial pillar of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) localization and is being rolled out across states.
To achieve these outcomes, UNICEF works with governments and partners, including international financing institutions, UN organizations, donor organizations, academic institutions, think tanks, civil society organizations, the private sector, and children and adolescents. UNICEF actively seeks partnerships to build a future that the children of India want and truly deserve.
Key social policy resources