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Better social protection advocated for children

By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-22 09:32
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A displaced Palestinian child, who fled due to Israeli strikes, eats in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb 20, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Child welfare advocates have urged policymakers and donors to take more decisive steps in scaling up universal social protection for children, as an estimated 1.4 billion people under the age of 15 have been left out globally, leaving them vulnerable to health risks.

Expert groups noted that while there has been a modest global increase in access to child benefits in the last 14 years, the progress "has been unequal".

Shahra Razavi, director of the Social Protection Department at the International Labour Organization, or ILO, called the situation a "crisis" and said there is an urgent need for effective policymaking to help close protection gaps.

She also highlighted that regional inequalities in coverage and progress "are of serious concern" as improvement in child benefit coverage is marginal in most regions and too many children are still being left behind.

According to data released last week by the ILO, humanitarian organization Save the Children and the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, fewer than 1 in 10 children in low-income nations have access to child benefits, showing a significant disparity compared to children in high-income countries.

The agencies noted in a joint report that child benefits are a critical form of social protection, intended to promote the long-term well-being of children. Delivered as cash or tax credits, child benefits are essential for reducing poverty as well as for accessing healthcare, nutrition, quality education, water and sanitation.

Data also showed that coverage rates for children in countries that were highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change were a third lower than those in countries that are not classified as being at high risk.

The report noted that there has been a modest global increase in access to child benefits over 14 years, from 20 percent in 2009 to 28.1 percent in 2023, but the progress was unequal.

In low-income countries, rates of coverage remain staggeringly low at around 9 percent. At the same time, 84.6 percent of children in high-income countries were covered.

Natalia Winder Rossi, director of Social Policy and Social Protection at UNICEF, noted that globally, 333 million children are living in "extreme poverty", struggling to survive on less than $2.15 per day, and nearly 1 billion children living in multidimensional poverty.

'Policy choice'

With the current progress, she added, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals' poverty targets "are out of reach".

She said ending child poverty "is a policy choice" and that expanding social protection coverage of children in the fight against poverty is critical, including the progressive realization of universal child benefits.

The three agencies appealed to policymakers and donors to attain a broader universal social protection by building systems that are rights-based, gender-responsive, inclusive and shock-responsive to address inequities and deliver better results for girls and women, children with disabilities, migrant children, and those caught up in child labor.

They also said closing protection gaps, like filling the "financial gap" by investing in child benefits and securing sustainable financing for social protection systems by mobilizing domestic resources, were key.

Strengthening social protection for parents and caregivers by guaranteeing access to decent work and adequate benefits, including those related to unemployment, sickness, maternity, and disability, was also highlighted.

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