Advocating and providing technical assistance to countries in the MENA region to tackle child poverty and to ensure all children have equitable access to social protection and basic services.
MENA region is experiencing tremendous challenges especially with the humanitarian crisis, displacement and decreased access to services; stagnant economic growth and high unemployment; food insecurity and escalating malnutrition rates. While good progress has been made in the eradication of extreme poverty in the MENA region, a significant proportion of children continue to live in households below the nationally defined poverty line.
In addition to monetary poverty, multidimensional poverty is a key challenge facing the region. The Arab Poverty Report launched recently in September 2017 indicates that around 40.6 per cent of households live in poverty, out of which, 13.4 per cent in extreme poverty. For children, multidimensional poverty is more prevalent, where 44.1 per cent of children are living in multidimensional poverty, out of which, 24.7 per cent are in extreme multidimensional poverty. Inequities are very high between rural and urban areas and wealth quintiles.
Social Protection is a mechanism that can effectively address monetary and multidimensional poverty facing children in MENA region. Currently, public spending on social protection in MENA is far from adequate in benefits and scale, and a large share still goes to subsidies and not focused on poorest and most vulnerable children. Although the percentage of children 0-14 in MENA is around 32%, only 0.8% of GDP is spent on child-focused social protection. Similarly, the overall public expenditures on social sectors that have direct impact on children such as health and education are not optimal in terms of adequacy, effectiveness and efficiency.
Every child in the MENA region have the right to equitable and adequate social protection and basic services, such as health and education. We focus on three key areas – child poverty, social protection and public finance for children.
Child-sensitive social protection that decrease social and economic vulnerabilities will facilitate equitable access to basic social services. For this reason, we support UNICEF country offices in MENA to support governments, national systems, and key stakeholders in expanding equitable and child-sensitive social protection coverage, including humanitarian and post-conflict transitional settings. UNICEF is currently providing technical support to countries of the region in a broad spectrum of social protection interventions, ranging from establishing universal child grants in more stable settings to implementing large scale emergency cash transfers.
To ensure evidence-based advocacy with Governments at country and regional level, UNICEF focuses on understanding the vulnerabilities facing children through conducting child poverty studies. Recently, UNICEF finalized the Child Deprivation Study, which was incorporated as part of the Arab Poverty Report that was launched jointly with the League of Arab State and ESCWA in September 2017. The study illustrated the high prevalence of overlapping deprivation among children, and called for the urgency to expand social protection mechanisms and improve the public allocations and expenditure on basic social services to cover all children including those most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
In the area of public finance for children, UNICEF is providing technical support and advocating with Governments to explore fiscal space options to increase public allocations focusing on children, in addition to supporting various child-focused budget analysis and investment cases.