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

Regional symposium to address poverty and inequality through social protection policies and systems

DHAKA, 15 April 2008 - Policy-makers from eight countries of South Asia today gathered in Dhaka for a symposium organized by UNICEF on how social protection systems, legislation and policies can contribute towards fulfilling the rights of the child – particularly in a region where children remain especially vulnerable to social deprivation and disparities.

 Social protection strategies are increasingly viewed as effective ways to address poverty, income inequality, social exclusion, and to transform society. The symposium represents a unique opportunity to share initiatives and identify methods to further strengthen social protection systems in South Asia. 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.

 ‘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 Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. ‘For children, the “disconnect” is often one that jeopardizes their future irreversibly.’

The three day symposium will be attended by about seventy senior government’s officials, representatives of international NGOs and development agencies, leading academic institutions researchers and experts.

Although poverty rates in South Asia have decreased remarkably, over 400 million people remain under the poverty line – representing almost 40 per cent 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 in society. Today rising food prices are posing new challenges for the region’s poor.

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. 

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.

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




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