Social protection

Nearly two thirds of children worldwide are not shielded from the lifelong effects of poverty and discrimination.

Two Syrian boys embrace and kiss their mother.
UNICEF/UN0344215/Onat

Social protection covers the range of policies and programmes needed to reduce the lifelong consequences of poverty and exclusion. Programmes like cash transfers – including child grants, school meals, skills development and more – help connect families with health care, nutritious food and quality education to give all children, no matter what circumstances they are born into, a fair chance in life.

Yet, two out of three children worldwide are not covered by any form of social protection, leaving them vulnerable to economic hardship and social exclusion.

Children may be cut off from social protection for various reasons. Families who live in hard-to-reach places, or who are affected by conflict, violence or natural disasters, are often missed by cash transfer programmes and other critical services. Girls and boys with disabilities are also more likely than their peers to be left behind.

For children in places where social protection is accessible, services may be fragmented. Governments that fund programmes to expand education but neglect those that tackle malnutrition, for example, may find that girls and boys still struggle to learn. When social protection programmes do not reinforce one another – in education, health, nutrition and other areas – children miss out on key opportunities, and remain vulnerable to the lifelong effects of poverty.

Social assistance for parents is also crucial. Child care and other forms of support help families pursue the opportunities they need to build better futures for their children. Still, these services remain out of reach for many families in need.

Boys stop to smile at the camera as they play outside in Kenya.
UNICEF/Francisca Ndinda
Boys smile at the camera as they play outside in Kitue, Kenya. Their parents participated in the UNICEF-supported Nutritional Improvements through Cash and Health Education (NICHE) pilot programme in 2018.

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF is a leading global partner on social protection, working in more than 150 countries to deliver social assistance – from cash transfer programmes to social welfare services – that addresses child poverty in all its dimensions.

Our social protection activities include:

  • Generating evidence on child poverty and vulnerability, and the impact of social protection programmes on children and communities.
  • Working with Governments and partners to translate social protection goals into laws and policies.
  • Providing technical support to establish and expand national cash transfer programmes through core diagnostics, registries, monitoring and evaluation systems, and decentralized capacity development.
  • Connecting families in social protection programmes to information for child development, and encouraging the uptake of nutrition, health and education services.
  • Promoting a case management approach by incorporating child-related data in social and beneficiary registries for cross-referrals and social care.
  • Enhancing the responsiveness of social protection systems to climate change, natural disasters, conflict and other humanitarian emergencies.