Realizing Children’s Right to Social Protection in the Middle East and North Africa

a compendium of UNICEF’s contributions

A girl in a classroom


Children’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have seen a negative trajectory in recent years. The region has faced tremendous challenges, including the effects of civil uprisings in 2011, and the eruption of armed conflict and subsequent humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Children have acutely felt the effects of these shocks. They have been affected by displacement, decreased access to basic social services, high unemployment, food insecurity and escalating malnutrition rates.


The region’s social protection systems have not served children and their families well. Children continue to face challenges across the region, whether or not their country is affected by conflict or humanitarian crises. Significant challenges include limited synergies with the health, nutrition or education sectors; cash transfer programmes which do not specifically target children; government-implemented social protection programmes which are not enshrined in national legal frameworks; lack of fiscal space and resources for social protection for children; and social protection systems that are ill-equipped to provide protection in the event of covariate shocks.


Over recent years UNICEF has strengthened its focus on child-sensitive social protection to help fulfill children’s rights. Social protection is an avenue to address the complex vulnerabilities facing children in the region. Working in close partnership and collaboration with governments, UNICEF has supported policy reforms, implemented programmatic interventions, advocated for implementation of children’s rights, and collaborated with national systems and development partners.


National leadership has been a key guiding principle underpinning the work of UNICEF MENA to ensure the progressive realization of children’s rights to social protection. National leadership is key to ensure coherence, sustainable public financing, and at-scale coverage that allows the most vulnerable children to be reached. UNICEF has played a key role in supporting national social protection coordination and monitoring mechanisms, where the efforts of all stakeholders are orchestrated and tracked under Government leadership. In very specific circumstances, mainly humanitarian settings, where the Government is not able to fulfil the rights of children to social protection, UNICEF works directly and in coordination with development partners to deliver humanitarian social protection solutions for children, always with the ultimate aim of restoring and strengthening national social protection systems.


This Compendium documents the broad range of UNICEF’s social protection interventions in MENA from 2014-2017. The Compendium illustrates how UNICEF has worked hand in hand with partner governments in both humanitarian and development settings and succeeded in reaching the most vulnerable children with social protection mechanisms. The timeframe selected represents UNICEF’s previous global Strategic Plan, which included social inclusion and social protection as a discrete focus area. Where possible, documented evidence for impacts that have emerged in 2018, have also been included. Information for the Compendium has been sourced from UNICEF Country Office Annual Reports (COAR), internalc reporting, or has otherwise been documented in a published study or report.


UNICEF takes a holistic approach to helping governments build a child-sensitive social protection system. The Compendium includes 20 case studies detailing UNICEF’s contributions in the MENA region across the following five Action Areas:

  1. Generating evidence on child poverty and social protection, and conducting advocacy for evidence-based social protection policies and programmes.
  2. Supporting policies, coordination and financing to strengthen the integration, coherence and child-sensitivity of social protection systems.
  3. Expanding and improving the use of cash transfer programming for children.
  4. Linking cash transfer recipients to information, knowledge and services, and building a better social service workforce.
  5. Supporting social protection in fragile and humanitarian contexts through leveraging or improving the national social protection system.
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UNICEF Middle East and North Africa
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