Social inclusion and policy

UNICEF works to create an enabling policy environment for equity and children’s rights in South Asia.

sister carrying brother in Mumbai


South Asia is one of the most economically fragmented regions in the world. Despite having democracies in place, governments in the region are unstable and fragile, giving rise to short-termism and an inability to implement long-term social policies. Governance systems are unable to sustain and implement long-term social change. 

Economies in South Asia are characterised by structural distortions. For instance, highly productive sectors like service, which makes the highest contribution to GDP, employs the lowest number of people while the agriculture sector, which employs the largest percentage of people, contributes the least towards GDP. In several South Asian countries, remittances form a significant portion of GDP and youth aspirations are tied to this. This has implications for employment generation and employability. 

South Asia has a large informal economy, which means that many people remain outside the formal support provided by public and private sector safety nets. Existing social protection systems are fragmented and in many cases reflect political patronage rather than the stated objective of targeting resources at the poor. A low revenue and social investment vicious cycle has led to atrophy of public services leading people to seek both healthcare and education from the private sector.

A weak judicial system combined with a limited public sector accountability is keeping the countries from harnessing the good aspects of urbanization. Ambiguity in property rights including resettlement policies means that serious barriers exist to accessing social services in peri-urban areas for population groups that are likely to contribute most to the deprivation and poverty statistics. This reflects a deeper dynamic of political change that has been stifled due to elite political capture. 


UNICEF’s overall strategy in South Asia is to work with national and international institutions to provide sustainable and on-demand technical advice to ensure an inclusive environment for all children in the region. We are committed to strengthening and expanding partnerships with relevant actors to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our greatest strength is that of being a neutral convenor of development stakeholders and for that purpose we support platforms for regional meetings, training, and collaborations on knowledge management and research networks. Regional partners are supported through policy analysis and technical advice to build their capacity to anticipate and respond to social and economic changes. 

In our work with governments on achieving Headline Results aligned to SDGs, our focus remains to provide the best estimates of Child Poverty as a diagnostic tool to lay the basis for advocating for investments in children. We mobilize resources for children through analysis of existing fiscal space in domestic budgets for social sectors and in partnerships with international financial institutions such as IMF, World Bank, AIIB and EU. The long-term objective is to create a policy environment that provides continuity in social policies for a 20-30 year development cycle, critical to achieving a breakthrough in sustainable human development. In short term, this translates into negotiating a core social package for children such as Universal Child Grant as a part of broader social protection systems. However, since resources are not enough to achieve sustainable outcomes, we also facilitate the analysis of accountability distortions at national and sub-national levels, especially in large and medium urban municipalities. Further, we work towards improving budgetary transparency, and, with citizen and consumer watchdogs, work to ultimately assist in the regulation of service quality being provided by the private sector and in-depth analysis of how to make public private partnerships oriented towards creating better choices for the most vulnerable populations. 

As South Asia moves toward closing the demographic window in 5-10 years, the need for large, urgent and consistent investments in children and youth cannot be overemphasized. As a citizen of any South Asian country, your future is at stake. If it’s not done today, it will not be done tomorrow and it will be too late.

We call on you as a parent, a teacher, a farmer, a civil servant, in whatever capacity you can to contribute to raising awareness of this urgency to invest in children. It is your future and our future, and we can make it better together.


These resources represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.