Globally, just 1 in 4 children covered by social protection: UN report

One billion children live in multidimensional poverty without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Friday 03 March 2023
An additional 50 million children aged 0-15 missed child benefits (paid in cash or tax credits) between 2016 and 2020. Photo: UNICEF

Only 26.4 per cent of children aged 0-15 years are shielded by social protection, leaving the remaining 73.6 per cent exposed to poverty, exclusion and multidimensional deprivations, noted a new United Nations (UN) report.

Some 1.77 billion children aged 0-18 years lack access to a child or family cash benefit, a fundamental pillar of a social protection system, added the document released by the International Labour Organization and UNICEF on March 01, 2023.

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Multiple crises are likely to push more children into poverty, necessitating an immediate increase in social protection measures, warned the report.

Globally, all 2.4 billion children need social protection to be healthy and happy, said the More than a billion reasons: The urgent need to build universal social protection report.

The document warned that an additional 50 million children aged 0-15 missed out on child benefits (paid in cash or tax credits) between 2016 and 2020.

Child and family social protection coverage rates fell or stagnated in every region in the world between 2016 and 2020, leaving no country on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of achieving substantial social protection coverage by 2030.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, coverage fell significantly from approximately 51 per cent to 42 per cent. In many other regions, coverage has stalled and remains low. 

Since 2016, the coverage rates have been at around 21 per cent in central Asia and southern Asia, 14 per cent in eastern Asia and south-eastern Asia, 11 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and western Asia and 28 per cent in northern Africa.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, children were more than twice likely to be living in extreme poverty (struggling to survive on less than $1.90 a day) than adults. Approximately 356 million children were living in extreme poverty then.

One billion children live in multidimensional poverty without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that social protection is a critical response in times of crisis. Nearly every government in the world either rapidly adapted existing schemes or introduced new social protection programmes to support children and families.

But most fell short of making permanent reforms to protect against future shocks, according to the report.

The report stated that 31 states in India had implemented the national ‘PM CARES for Children’ scheme, a package of measures for 10,793 full orphans (children who lost both parents) and 151,322 half-orphans (children who lost one parent due to the pandemic). So far, 4,302 children have received support from the scheme.

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In June 2022, South Africa introduced a welfare scheme — Child Support Grant (CSG) Top-Up. The scheme aims to increase the CSG amount for orphans and children heading or living in child-headed households. 

Social protection policies are powerful tools for alleviating poverty for children and their families at risk of falling into poverty and helping all children deprived of key services. Social protection can also shield children from other major risks, such as child labour and forced labour.

The report urges policymakers to take action towards universal social protection for all children, including investments in benefits that offer proven and cost-effective ways to combat child poverty.

Authorities are also advised to provide child benefits through national social protection systems that also connect families to crucial health and social services, such as free or affordable quality childcare.

Other recommendations included securing sustainable financing for schemes by mobilising domestic resources, increasing budget allocation for children, strengthening social protection for parents and caregivers and guaranteeing access to decent work and adequate employee benefits.

For the first time in any UN publication, comparable trend data on effective coverage for all groups, including children, is provided.

It offers a broad range of global, regional and country data on social protection coverage, benefits and public expenditures on social protection for children.

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