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Focus on child sensitive social protection

Tanja van de Linde | 18 January 2013

The focus of the inequality debate seems to be more and more on economic growth without acknowledging that human development is a prerequisite for poverty reduction. Also, human development is a basic human right.

I have been following the inequality debate with a lot of interest. However, the focus seems to be more and more on economic growth without acknowledging that human development is a pre-requisite for poverty reduction. Also, human development is a basic human right.

Wieck Wildeboer stated that we don’t need new development goals, but instead continuity and consistency to achieve the old ones. The problem with that statement is that we have seen that poverty reduction does not automatically follow economic growth.  Even the IMF and the World Bank now say that high levels of inequality imperil both growth and stability. The UN report on post-2015 development goals also clearly states: “Business as usual thus cannot be an option and transformative change is needed.”  

Recently, I commented on Stephan Klasen’s blog post and argued that an integrated and multi-sectoral approach to child sensitive social protection should be the focus of the post MDG discourse, because it makes sense from both an economic and a human development perspective. I would like to deepen this discussion a little more by using examples from two development programmes that I know from experience and that focus more on investing in children and young people.

The first example is from Kenya where the Bernard van Leer Foundation invested heavily in developing an integrated early childhood development program that became a model for the region. The Foundation, over several decades, not only helped to develop and strengthen knowledge about ECD (Early Child Development) and influenced several policies, but actually contributed to designing and building a national infrastructure - NACECE/DICECEs (National Centre for Early Childhood Education, District Centres for Early Childhood Education). In many ways, it was partially responsible for the construction of a part of the public sector at the national and district levels. There are few examples in history where an individual private foundation has had such an influence on the creation of an entire functional unit of the public sector. The holistic approach included how to monitor healthy physical growth and nutrition, ensure proper hygiene and access to clean water, stimulate effective interaction with parents, and work with the entire community. The effects of HIV/AIDS required new approaches to ECD services as safety nets for OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). The programme even developed counselling and psycho-social interventions. The overall philosophy of the programme was “ Building on people’s strengths” , meaning that parents, extended families and local communities understand their conditions best, and when given the chance (i.e., analysis, tools and sufficient financial and intellectual resources) to improve their circumstances, they will do so.

The second example is the Girl Power programme carried out in ten countries by the Child Rights Alliance, a coalition of Plan, CHI, DCI-ECPAT, IDCI, Women Win and Free Press Unlimited. Here again, a partnership between government and civil society is sought in order to strengthen integrated child protection systems. The programme is using a multi-dimensional approach addressing gender-based violence, socio-economic empowerment, socio-political empowerment and post-primary education. It is targeting more than a million girls and young women. Members of the village savings and loans group in Sierra Leone said that they can now pay for hospital or school fees.

When we talk about social protection and gender justice, it is important to take a transformative view by extending social protection to areas such as gender equity, empowerment, economic, social and cultural rights, instead of strictly looking at economic vulnerabilities. The World Bank's Human Development Network has said that "[i]nvesting in adolescent girls is one of the smartest investments that developing countries and donors can make in their pursuit of sustainable economic and social development”.

What do these examples have in common?

1) A systems approach which strengthens the institutions and mechanisms necessary to address multiple vulnerabilities in an integrated manner;

2) A multi-sector approach to maximize linkages between social protection and outcomes in gender, child protection, education, health, etc.

Maybe these are not wholly new goals, but what is new is the need for more integration and a greater focus on social inclusion and social protection. For me, a focus on the eradication of absolute poverty, which as such may have a positive effect on equality, is not enough. A recent study by Marito Garcia of the World Bank [1] showed that social protection can be seen as one of the major policy options to achieve inclusive social development. It has certainly proven to be one that is gaining popularity with the number and scope of programmes expanding rapidly across the globe. Addressing inequalities as part of the new development agenda is not just a moral imperative: it is a practical "win-win", because focusing efforts and resources on the most deprived can be cost-effective and achieve more equitable societies. [2]

[1] Garcia, M. & C. Moore (2012) The Cash Dividend. The Rise of Cash Transfer Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington DC: The World Bank.

[2] Richard Morgan, UNICEF's Senior Advisor on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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