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Social protection to tackle childhood poverty: lessons from West and Central Africa

© UNICEF/WCARO/2009/Pudlowski

Social protection is now widely seen as a key component of poverty reduction strategies and efforts to reduce vulnerability to adverse shocks, such as the current global economic crisis.

It is particularly important for children because of their heightened vulnerability relative to adults and the role that social protection can play in ensuring adequate nutrition and overcoming barriers of access to basic social services (education, health, water and sanitation) by the poorest.

Social protection is a key pilar to poverty eradication effortsThe investments in children made possible by social protection programmes help to ensure the respect of child rights, accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and break the long-term cycle of poverty.

UNICEF’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa has commissioned a major study on social protection and children in the region with the aim of understanding better the existing state of social protection provision and the opportunities and challenges in strengthening social protection to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable children.

The study, carried out by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in partnership with researchers from West and Central Africa, combined a broad desk review of available literature, official documents and data covering the region as a whole with in-depth case studies in five countries: Congo Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Mali and Senegal. 

The study has generated a body of knowledge that will be of wide interest to policymakers, programme practitioners and researchers, both in West and Central Africa and internationally.

UNICEF wishes to acknowledge the funding contribution of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Below are the links to the five regional thematic reports and related briefing papers resulting from this study.

• ‘Strengthening Social Protection for Children in West and Central Africa’
This report discusses the role of social protection in addressing child vulnerability and deprivations in a region with very high poverty levels and child mortality, and multiple risks to child survival, development and protection. The report reviews social protection provision from a child lens, covering traditional informal mechanisms as well as modern formal programmes for social assistance (including cash transfers), social insurance and social welfare services. The report discusses the developing policy framework, including countries’ social protection strategies and the coverage of vulnerability reduction and social protection in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). It also considers some of the complex institutional and implementation challenges facing the development of stronger social protection provision in West and Central Africa.
[Briefing paper]

• ‘Fiscal Space for Strengthened Social Protection in West and Central Africa’
The main focus of this report is whether stronger child-focused social protection is affordable and sustainable in West and Central African countries. After discussing the concept of ‘fiscal space’, the report provides the results of cost simulations for universal and targeted child benefits and social pensions in the five case study countries, and discusses the extent to which these countries have the potential fiscal space to afford one or more of these options. It concludes that universal child benefits and social pensions would be fiscally affordable in some low-population, oil rich countries of the Gulf of Guinea, but that only more modest, targeted schemes would be feasible in the low-income aid dependent countries.
[Briefing paper]

• ‘Child Poverty: a Role for Cash Transfers?
This report presents the international evidence on the positive impacts of cash transfers as a mechanism for reducing child poverty and vulnerability, provides information on the pilot cash transfer programmes launched in West and Central African countries, and discusses the challenges that need to be addressed in designing, implementing and scaling up such programmes in the region. Particular attention is given to targeting in countries where poverty rates are very high, direct means testing is impossible and administrative capacity is low. The report also discusses issues concerning the politics of cash transfers, affordability, the linkages between cash transfers and basic social services, the use of beneficiary conditionality, capacity building for programme delivery, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to learn lessons and generate the evidence needed to marshal political and budgetary support for scale-up. 
[Briefing paper]

• ‘Maternal and Child Health: the Social Protection Dividend
West and Central Africa has the highest regional child and maternal mortality rates in the world and progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals has been frustratingly slow. This report analyses the financial barriers of access that limit use of essential health services by the poor, examines the composition of health financing, and weighs up the pros and cons of alternative approaches to social protection for health in the region. The report focuses in particular on the impact of user fees and the prerequisites for successful user fee abolition, while also assessing other approaches to equitable health financing such as social health insurance and mutual health organizations.
[Briefing paper]

• ‘Promoting Synergies between Child Protection and Social Protection
This report emphasizes the complex nature of child vulnerability, at different stages of childhood, and the multiple risks that children face, from economic, social, cultural, natural and political/conflict-related factors. It argues that a holistic approach to social protection for children is required, combining preventative and responsive social welfare services to protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and other social protection instruments, such as cash transfers, and discusses the opportunities for synergies.
[Briefing paper]

The study also resulted in five country case study reports with related briefing papers (links will be provided as they become available).
• ‘Social protection and children in West and Central Africa: case study Republic of Congo’ [Briefing paper]
• ‘Social protection and children in West and Central Africa: case study Equatorial Guinea’ [Briefing paper] | ‘Cómo promover el desarrollo inclusivo en Guinea Ecuatorial - El potencial de una protección social favorable a las necesidades de los niños’ [Briefing paper (in Spanish)]
• ‘Social protection and children in West and Central Africa: opportunities and challenges in Ghana’ [Briefing paper]
‘La protection sociale des enfants en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre – étude de cas du Mali’ (in French) | ‘Social protection and children in West and Central Africa: opportunities and challenges in Mali’ [Briefing paper]
• ‘La protection sociale des enfants en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre – étude de cas du Sénégal’ (in French) | ‘Social protection and children in West and Central Africa: opportunities and challenges in Senegal’ [Briefing paper]







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