NEW DELHI: Social protection coverage eludes a vast majority of children across the world when it is critical in helping them escape poverty and its devastating effects, a joint report released by UNICEF and the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Wednesday said.
The report said evidence shows clearly that cash transfers play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability. Yet, globally only 35% of children on average are covered by social protection which reaches 87% in Europe and Central Asia, 66% in the Americas, 28% in Asia and 16% in Africa.
When it comes to South Asia, over 35.7% children are extremely poor and India houses over 30.3% children in the category. Focusing on the situation of girl children in India, the report noted that across the country, girls suffer systematic discrimination and this is reflected in high rates of marriage before the age of 18 and school dropout rates.
“Poverty hits children the hardest, since its consequences can last a lifetime. The poor nutrition and lost years of education that often result are tragic both for the individual and for his or her community and society. Countries need to put children first and reach every child with social protection to end poverty for good," said Alexandra Yuster, UNICEF Associate Director and Chief of Social Policy.
The report has called for the rapid expansion of child and family benefits, with the aim of achieving universal social protection for children, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity). The report highlighted that such benefits are a key element of policies to improve access to nutrition, health and education, as well as reducing child labour and child poverty and vulnerability.
The report stated that universal social protection for children is not a privilege of wealthy countries. A number of developing countries have made or nearly achieved universal coverage, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mongolia and South Africa. But in many other countries, social protection programmes for children struggle with limited coverage, inadequate benefit levels, fragmentation and weak institutionalization. Some governments undergoing fiscal consolidation are even cutting allowances, instead of extending benefits as countries had agreed in the SDGs, the report said.
India too in 2017 witnessed a nationwide extension of conditional cash transfer programme for pregnant and lactating women as part of the Maternity Benefit Programme. Cash transfer of ₹6,000 paid in three installments--at the early registration of pregnancy, at the time of institutional delivery, and three months after delivery if the child is registered and has received Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccination as well as oral polio vaccine (OPV) and diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT)-1 and 2.
“Child poverty can be reduced overnight with adequate social protection. To improve the lives of all children is an issue of priorities and political will: even the poorest countries have fiscal space to extend social protection floors," said Isabel Ortiz, Director of Social Protection, ILO.