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Social protection is increasingly considered a development success story. At the same time, it still does too little to account for social differentiation and to address vulnerability, as opposed to poverty. Child sensitive social protection has gained considerable momentum, particularly in a developing country context, raising questions about its concept and practical implications. We argue that three types of vulnerabilities call for more tailored thinking about social protection for children and discuss implications for social protection interventions on the basis of case studies. Child sensitive social protection requires a critical perspective and for context to guide its design and delivery.
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© The Policy Press • 2012 • ISSN 1759-8273
Key words social protection • child-sensitive • vulnerability • social differentiation • cash transfers
Journal of Poverty and Social Justice • vol 20 • no 3 • 2012 • 291-306 •
A child-sensitive approach to social
protection: serving practical and
strategic needs
Keetie Roelen and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
Social protection is increasingly considered a development success story. At the same time, it
still does too little to account for social differentiation and to address vulnerability, as opposed
to poverty. Child sensitive social protection has gained considerable momentum, particularly in
a developing country context, raising questions about its concept and practical implications. We
argue that three types of vulnerabilities call for more tailored thinking about social protection for
children and discuss implications for social protection interventions on the basis of case studies.
Child sensitive social protection requires a critical perspective and for context to guide its design
and delivery.
The last two decades have seen increased acknowledgement of the importance of
issues surrounding child poverty, vulnerability and well-being and the need for a
special focus within the development and poverty reduction debate to address these
issues (Roelen, 2010; Ben-Arieh, 2000). Child poverty is widely recognised to have
far-reaching short-term and long-term adverse impacts on income, education, health
and other areas of well-being (see, for example, Haveman and Wolfe, 1995). With
social protection having established itself as a core function of development policy
(Devereux et al, 2011), it is increasingly being considered as an integral part of the
response to child poverty and vulnerability in low- and middle-income countries.
Child-sensitive social protection (CSSP) is the term used to summarise a wide range
of policies and programmes. What, however, does CSSP actually encapsulate? What
does the concept mean with respect to instruments and interventions? The interest
in CSSP and the related body of research on social protection and its potential
benets has grown substantially in recent years but lacks a shared understanding of
the meaning of the term. Guiding principles have been formulated by UNICEF
and other development partners (UNICEF, 2009) to respond to the great interest in
CSSP; but these err on the general side, and fail to provide detailed insight into what
CSSP should or could look like.
The purpose of this paper is, rst, to take stock of and evaluate the current agenda
on CSSP. We recognise the importance of bringing a child-centred focus to the
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292 A child-sensitive approach to social protection
Journal of Poverty and Social Justice • vol 20 • no 3 • 2012 • 291-306 •
established social protection eld of policy and research. However, we argue that the
idea of CSSP is not to propose a new set of measures or interventions but rather to
act as a tool to assess such interventions against the extent to which they respond to
children’s practical and strategic needs. Second, we identify three types of vulnerability
that are pertinent to, or exacerbated for, children and require particular consideration
within the remit of social protection. These are: 1) physical/biological vulnerabilities;
2) dependence-related vulnerabilities; and 3) institutionalised disadvantage (see also
Sabates-Wheeler and Roelen, 2011). CSSP means that social protection must respond
to these vulnerabilities by building in safeguards and instruments that minimise and
counteract their impacts on children’s lives. Building on these elements of a child-
sensitive approach to social protection, we consider the degree of ‘child-sensitivity’
of current social protection measures, thus necessarily thinking beyond commonly
held assertions about what is good or bad policy for children. In this way, this paper
challenges some of the policy interventions and rhetoric that are widely acclaimed to
benet children and also considers those that have not been intentionally designed to
benet children but can actually have a positive impact on their lives.
Making the case for being child-sensitive
Recent decades have seen an increased recognition that children deserve a special
focus within the debate on poverty reduction, both in developed and developing
countries. There are a number of grounds on which one can argue for a special child
focus within policies and programming, which hold across time and space.
First, it is now widely acknowledged that children have dierent basic needs from
adults and are harder hit, both in the short and long term, when their basic needs
are not met. Jones and Sumner (2011) point towards the ‘dierential experience’ of
poverty in childhood, setting their situation apart from adults (as well as from other
children, depending on their life-stage). Children growing up in a poor or low-
income family are more likely to receive poorer healthcare, to have lower educational
outcomes and to reach lower levels of attainment in the labour market (Haveman
and Wolfe, 1995; Esping-Andersen and Sarasa, 2002). Children living in poverty are
also more likely to grow up to become poor adults (Corak, 2006). Furthermore,
eects are more pronounced for those children who experience persistent poverty,
that is, living in poor and vulnerable conditions for a number of consecutive years
(Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, 1997).
The case for child-sensitive policies can also be made by appealing to rights- and
eciency-based arguments (Blank et al, 2011). Rights-based approaches have been
at the heart of policy discourse around child poverty and have informed the response
to it by organizations such as UNICEF and many NGOs (Jones and Sumner, 2011).
Rights-based approaches resonate with the widely ratied Convention on the
Rights of the Child (CRC) and build on the premise that poverty in itself is a
violation of human rights. In addition, Blank et al (2011) argue that social protection
in itself is a basic human right, as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) as well as the CRC refer to social protection as an entitlement rather
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Keetie Roelen and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
Journal of Poverty and Social Justice • vol 20 • no 3 • 2012 • 291-306 •
than charity. Although these rights-based arguments are not particular to children
and hold for all humans, the argument is reinforced by moral obligations related to
children’s ‘innocence’ and dependence on others for the provision of basic needs.
Eciency grounds for social protection emphasise its potential for the stimulation of
productivity and economic growth (Blank et al, 2011), considering social protection
as an investment rather than a mere welfare or protective measure. Alderman and
Behrman (2006) estimate the economic gain at about $510 for each infant that
is moved out of low birth weight status, largely stemming from increased labour
productivity and reduction of the costs incurred by infant illness and death. There
is ample research pointing to the high returns from investing in children with
broad social and economic gains, underlining the need to give children special
consideration in policy processes to respond to their unique position in terms of
needs and vulnerabilities as well as opportunities.
The remit of child-sensitive social protection
The rise of social protection as a central element in development policy has been
accompanied by deserved criticism that popular instruments and programmes have
not paid adequate attention to social dierentiation and the dierential opportunities
that social or age-specic groups have for access to the variety of forms of social
protection (Sabates-Wheeler and Roelen, 2011). Sabates-Wheeler and Feldman
(2011) explore the contribution of a consideration of migration and migrants to
social protection. Molyneux (2009) and Jones and Holmes (2010) bring a gender
critique to social protection. Similarly, organisations and researchers with a mandate
to advance children’s wellbeing, particularly in developing countries, have increasingly
advocated for child-sensitive social protection (CSSP). UNICEF has pushed the
global agenda on CSSP, in terms of both the denition of the term and advocacy
for its goals. It has initiated the Joint Statement on CSSP in 2009, which calls for
consensus on a stronger focus on children in the social protection agenda, to which
many international organisations and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have
signed up. So what is CSSP, and what does it add to a mainstream social protection
Denitions of the concept of CSSP are thin on the ground, but primarily emphasise
the need for interventions addressing the particular vulnerabilities that children
face, as well as human capital investment, and make reference to target groups and
mechanisms. ‘Child-sensitive social protection focuses specically on addressing
the patterns of children’s poverty and vulnerability and recognizing the long-term
developmental benets of investing in children… In addition, interventions do not
have to target children directly to be child-sensitive’ (Yates et al, 2010: 210).
Temin (2008) refers to child-sensitive social protection as ‘the range of economic
and noneconomic social protection interventions that need to be strengthened if the
most vulnerable children and [their] families are to benet. These include (but are
not limited to) cash transfers, social work, early childhood development centres and
alternative care.
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In addition, Jones and Holmes (2010: 1) suggest that CSSP needs to be informed
by ‘an understanding of the multiple and often intersecting vulnerabilities and risks
that children and their care-givers face’; and that children’s experiences of such
vulnerabilities and risks dier depending on their life-stage. Despite the various
pointers provided in these denitions and guidelines, such as the complex and
interlinked set of risks, long-term adverse consequences of poverty and potential
interventions, we believe that they fail to provide a tangible idea of CSSP and its
practical implications. UNICEF’s guiding principles (UNICEF, 2009) go some
way in providing guidance for the meaning of child-sensitive social protection, but
fall short in terms of translating those conceptual guidelines into practical policy
implications. Although the document lists a number of steps towards making social
protection child-sensitive, these present widespread consensus rather than specic
pointers. Examples of such steps include an increase in available resources, an increase
in capacity and coordination and building the evidence base on CSSP. We do not
dispute the relevance of these steps, but consider them imperative for achieving any
kind of policy. Here we seek to elaborate a fuller understanding of the constituent
elements of child-sensitive social protection, evaluating current policy interventions
and their degree of ‘child sensitivity’. In other words, we consider the remit of
child-sensitive social protection to refer to outcomes rather than a set of inputs or
Elements of a child-sensitive approach to social protection
We argue that there are three distinct sets of vulnerability and asymmetry pertinent
to children and call for more tailored thinking about social protection taking these
into account. These are: 1) physical/biological vulnerabilities; 2) dependence-related
vulnerabilities; and 3) institutionalised disadvantage (see Sabates-Wheeler and
Roelen, 2011 for a more detailed discussion).
The rst vulnerability refers to the fact that children at dierent ages are more
susceptible to the negative impacts of malnutrition or disease by virtue of their
immature immune systems and under-development. There is sound evidence that
malnutrition, lack of healthcare and low levels of education during infancy and
childhood have far-reaching and long-lasting detrimental consequences (Haveman
and Wolfe, 1995; Brooks-Gunn and Duncan 1997), which aect not only the child
as an individual but also society as a whole (Esping-Andersen and Sarasa, 2002).
Clearly this vulnerability changes as children grow but, in general, the physiological
immaturity of children makes them more vulnerable than adults to negative
outcomes of shocks (other things being equal). On a positive note, childhood can be
considered as a unique window of opportunity in life for physical, cognitive and social
development, with strong returns to investment in terms of nutrition, healthcare and
education. Investments in micro-nutrients and food fortication are found to have
high returns, especially for children (Horton et al, 2008). Research in Guatemala
shows that higher pre-school cognitive ability is associated with higher secondary
school enrolment and achievement scores. Similarly, research in Zimbabwe nds that
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Journal of Poverty and Social Justice • vol 20 • no 3 • 2012 • 291-306 •
improved nutritional status of pre-schoolers is associated with school entry at an early
age and higher numbers of completed grades (Alderman et al, 2006). These ndings
are underlined by studies in other contexts, all pointing towards the positive eect
of early cognitive development on schooling outcomes in later years (Grantham-
McGregor et al, 2007). Finally, early childhood development programmes can also be
considered a unique opportunity for investing in children’s cognitive development
with immediate as well as long-term cognitive eects (Behrman et al, 2000).
The second type of vulnerability refers to the fact that children are by necessity
dependent on adults for their wellbeing. Children are not supposed to be economic
agents in their own right and are therefore highly dependent on adult members of the
household, family or community for the distribution of resources in order to meet
their physical, emotional and social requirements. Again, a caveat is in order here, as
older children may be more economically and socially independent. Nevertheless,
on the whole children are subject to asymmetrical relationships of dependence and
have limited autonomy in their wellbeing decisions. As a result, relationships are
open to misuse and abuse, thereby reinforcing children’s vulnerability. Alternatively
(or in addition), a child’s carers may be mis-informed or may lack the resources
for his or her adequate care, which increases his or her vulnerability. To ensure that
children’s needs are met within that wider structure, policies and programmes should
keep a close eye on issues such as the intra-household distribution and allocation of
resources (White et al, 2003). As Sabates-Wheeler et al (2009) argue, the risk of intra-
household discrimination might be particularly pertinent when women have limited
access to independent livelihoods or when the distribution of power and resources
is highly inequitable. As a result, policies and programmes cannot simply rest on the
assumption that resources will be equally distributed or prioritised towards those
who are most in need (see UNICEF, 2009). Finally, it also has to be noted that some
of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of children live completely outside
family and community structures and are self-reliant by necessity rather than by
choice. A failure to recognise and acknowledge these groups would lead to their
exclusion from policy eorts and exacerbate their disadvantaged position, pushing
them into further isolation.
Lastly, institutionalised disadvantage, or what some sociologists refer to as ‘cultural
devaluation disadvantage’ (Kabeer, 2005), refers to the devaluation of certain groups
in society based on perceptions of who they are. As Lister (2004) pointed out in
reference to the agency of people living in poverty, this is not only about their
behaviour but also about how those in power act in relation to them. So, for instance, if
society at large places little value on women or children, the vulnerabilities associated
with this type of disadvantage present themselves in the form of voicelessness of
these populations, lack of recognition, lack of representation and often entrenched
inequalities that can provide fertile grounds for the deliberate abuse and exclusion
of these groups. Group characteristics that commonly underlie cultural devaluation
include gender, ethnicity, religion and age, as they are thought to denote persons
of lesser worth following the dominant beliefs, perceptions and attitudes in a given
society (Kabeer, 2005). Rather than such an asymmetrical relationship with the rest
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296 A child-sensitive approach to social protection
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of society being a natural or inherent result of physiological conditions leading to a
lack of agency or limited autonomy, this type of disadvantage is a social and cultural
construct that is maintained and reinforced by society. Children can be considered
one of the groups in society which are culturally devalued in this way (Harper and
Jones, 2008), thereby reinforcing and perpetuating their already weakened socio-
cultural position resulting from the rst two vulnerabilities.
Although children have become increasingly visible on the development
agenda and in debates around poverty reduction, they remain a highly invisible
population with a lack of voice who are hard to reach. It is important to note
here that the degree of invisibility cannot be considered as homogenous across all
children, and that particular characteristics or conditions, including disability, HIV
infection, orphanhood or living on the streets, might add to and aggravate children’s
voicelessness. The widespread lack of institutional visibility is further underlined by
the fact that children’s issues are by and large represented by the weakest ministries in
government. As Jones and Sumner (2011) point out, ‘Many developing countries lack
a dedicated children’s ministry’; and, where they do exist, ‘they are typically among
the least inuential and under-resourced’ (p. 67). A response to the strategic need for
children to be more visible thus does not only pertain to a stronger involvement of
children themselves in policy processes but also a strengthening of the institutions
that speak on their behalf.
The implications of these three vulnerabilities suggest that an appropriate social
protection response for children requires particular elements that constitute the
degree of child-sensitivity of the intervention. Child-sensitive social protection
interventions should cater for both the practical and the strategic needs of children,
their carers and the community. Moser (1989) describes practical [gender] needs as
‘those needs which are formulated from the concrete conditions women experience’,
while strategic gender needs are ‘those needs that are formulated from the analysis
of their subordination to men’ (p. 1803). We apply these concepts to the needs of
children, leading to the interpretation that children’s practical needs are apparent from
the concrete conditions they experience given their stage in life, while children’s
strategic needs are observed from an understanding of their limited autonomy
and their relative invisibility within the population at large. Both needs should be
addressed by social protection to ensure that policies and programming are indeed
child-sensitive. For example, while a conditional cash or food transfer may ensure
that particular nutritional and health (that is, practical) needs of children are met, it
may also require birth registration or proof of identication (that is, strategic needs)
for children to actually access that transfer. As such, the rst vulnerability referring to
children’s particular biological and physical conditions can be largely translated into
practical needs that need to be met, while the (natural and constructed) asymmetrical
relationships that come into play in the second and third areas of child vulnerability
translate instead into strategic needs.
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Child-sensitive social protection in practice
Although it is useful to consider the extent to which theory can guide and support
the notion of CSSP, it is also important to review how the notion of CSSP can be
applied to social protection programming in practice. In this section, we discuss a
number of social protection interventions and consider the extent to which they can
be considered child-sensitive when assessed against children’s practical and strategic
needs. This illustrates the use of the notion of CSSP as an assessment tool rather than
a programmatic response per se. Interventions discussed here include those that have
been claimed to benet children, including conditional cash transfers and targeted
orphan benets, as well as those that are not widely considered to be particularly
child-sensitive, such as old age pensions.
Conditional cash transfers (CCTs)
The role of cash transfers in development and the recognition of their potential for
stabilising income, reducing income poverty and food insecurity and increasing levels
of well-being have gained unprecedented momentum in recent years (Adato and
Bassett, 2008; Hanlon et al, 2010). Especially in relation to children, CCTs are now
considered an important programme for their role in human capital development
by linking the receipt of transfers to school enrolment and/or health check-ups
(Fiszbein and Schady, 2009). This type of social protection intervention can thus
be considered to meet the practical needs of children by responding to children’s
multiple physiological and biological requirements. Where services are available,
conditional transfers are considered a particularly appropriate tool for reaching
the most vulnerable children and increasing their level of well-being and access to
services (de Janvry and Sadoulet, 2006; Fiszbein and Schady, 2009). An increasing
body of evidence from CCTs in such contexts is now available, primarily in Latin
America, and conrms those positive impacts (for example, Das et al, 2005; Fiszbein
and Schady, 2009).
Despite the overwhelming positive evidence of the impact of CCTs, however,
there is also evidence of less preferential outcomes for children. Evidence suggests
that CCTs do not unequivocally respond to children’s physical and biological
situations and meet their practical needs. A study of Brazil’s Bolsa Alimentação
nds that children receiving benets conditional on regular contact with the health
system have a lower weight than those receiving unconditional benets. Instead of
promoting improved nutrition practices for children, these ndings suggest that the
programme provides an incentive for keeping children at low weight to ensure the
receipt of benets (Morris et al, 2004). In Colombia, Ospina (2010) nds that CCTs
can act as insurance for the schooling of poor children but are not able to prevent
child labour as a coping strategy. A study by Barrera-Osorio et al (2008) suggests that
CCTs may even increase labour market work, while decreasing school attendance
for siblings or peers living in the same household but not enrolled in the programme.
It shows that although the peer eects of CCTs at school or community level are
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largely positive (see also Lalive and Cattaneo, 2009), such results cannot be used to
draw inferences about spillover eects at the household level. Children’s voicelessness
and lack of autonomy limit their ability to counteract decisions made on their
behalf, underlining their strategic needs for more equitable power relationships.
These examples show that, rather than meeting children’s strategic needs, CCTs
can perpetuate and reinforce children’s dependent and marginalised position.
More generally, the imposition of conditionalities raises concerns with respect to
paternalism and people’s freedom to choose appropriate services (Adato and Bassett,
2008; Standing, 2011) and various scholars have argued that poor people know best
how to allocate their resources (Hanlon et al, 2010).
In sum, the claim that CCTs are a particularly child-sensitive instrument is far
from evident. Although the theory of CCTs has the potential to respond to those
vulnerabilities deemed crucial for children and thereby to address their practical and
strategic needs, their potential to positively aect children’s lives is highly context-
specic. In itself, the intervention is well-equipped to respond to the multidimensional
nature and age- (and gender-) specicity of child poverty. Nevertheless, the degree
of child-sensitivity should be considered on a case-by-case basis and issues related
to the transfer of power and creation of perverse incentives should be monitored
closely. This should include a concern for the eect of CCTs on children who are
not enrolled in the programme, comparing their situation at community, group and
household level. Finally, as Lund (2011) argues with respect to the Child Support
Grant (CSG) in South Africa, the design of social protection interventions in favour
of conditionality should not be misdirected by shifts towards more conservative
approaches and the rising popularity of the notion of ‘co-responsibilities’.
Child-targeted programmes
Categorical targeting of social protection might be a preferred option in resource-
constrained contexts (Coady et al, 2003). Findings by Coady et al (2004) suggest that
the targeting performance of programmes targeted towards children is better in terms
of transferring benets to those in poverty when compared to targeting towards
elderly people. Child-targeted programmes are also found to lead to improved
outcomes for children (see Samson et al, 2011). In a context of growing numbers of
orphans due to HIV, and against a backdrop of eroding traditional care and support
structures, cash transfers are increasingly being considered as an intervention to help
families to cope with increased dependence rates and safeguard the development
of orphans (Stewart and Handa, 2011). In addition, they are increasingly being
considered as a mechanism to incentivise foster care, particularly in Sub-Saharan
Africa (Roelen and Delap, 2012). The use of cash transfers for such purposes would
imply explicit targeting of children whose parent(s) have died or of other vulnerable
In the light of children’s specic vulnerabilities, the availability of cash or in-kind
transfers targeted to orphans and/or other vulnerable children has the potential to
meet both practical and strategic needs. The rst objective of such transfer schemes
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is to provide for children’s basic and immediate requirements such as nutrition and
shelter, thereby fullling physical and biological requirements. Findings from Kenya’s
OVC Cash Transfer Programme indeed suggest that orphan-targeted transfers lead
to increased expenditures on food and health (Kenya OVC-CT Evaluation Team,
2012a). Impact evaluations of the same programme also show that the transfers
improve school enrolment, particularly in secondary school (Kenya OVC-CT
Evaluation Team, 2012b). Although narrowly targeted cash transfer programmes
may thus meet short- and long-term practical needs, they are likely to undermine
strategic needs, however. Strategically, the incentivisation of foster care strongly
recognises children’s dependence on adults to full those basic needs. Nevertheless,
in consideration of the distinct disadvantaged position of children whose parent(s)
have died, particularly orphans, the question arises as to whether interventions
should be particularly targeted towards these groups or rely on broader targeting
of poor and vulnerable children (Subbarao et al, 2001). With reference to children’s
dependent positions and asymmetric power relationships in relation to adults, the
implementation of a transfer payment to accompany care for orphans might lead to
‘commodication’ of children and undermine rather than meet this strategic need.
Such an eect is likely to be stronger if other transfer programmes are not available,
more dicult to access, or oer lower benets. Furthermore, the narrow targeting
of orphans might give rise to issues of stigmatization and equity in terms of the
exclusion of other groups of poor and vulnerable children and perpetuate their lack
of voice in society by further ‘cultural devaluation’.
The Orphan Care Programme (OCP) in Botswana presents an illustration of
the way in which a targeted programme fails to meet its objectives, despite good
intentions. Botswana’s current orphan care programme is narrowly targeted towards
children who have lost one or both parents and provides a response to their material
needs in terms of food vouchers and provision of clothing (Ellis et al, 2010). Eligibility
for the programme is exclusively based on whether or not the child is registered as
an orphan, or with one parent who has died, regardless of living conditions or other
criteria. Other social protection interventions in Botswana include programmes
for the destitute and for those who live in remote areas and are generally a lot
more stringent in terms of eligibility, applying means testing or proxy means testing.
Roelen et al (2011) nd that these two very dierent approaches towards targeting
of benets have led to a number of perverse incentives, exacerbating orphans’
vulnerable positions rather than alleviating them. The discrepancy in targeting
mechanisms between the orphan care and other programmes has led some orphans
to be considered ‘assets’ and a gateway for foster families to access food vouchers
and other benets. In other words, rather than the programme giving children more
voice and a degree of autonomy, it builds on and reinforces asymmetrical power
relationships. Although clearly recognizing the dependent position of orphans, the
orphan programme seems to provide perverse incentives and in some cases even to
‘commodify’ children.
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Old age pensions
Old age or social pensions have been introduced in a number of Sub-Saharan
African countries and they are under consideration in other developing countries
(Holmqvist, 2010). Despite elderly people being the prime target group for old
age pensions, the potential positive eects of such pensions for other demographic
groups are widely recognized. Especially in contexts where there are extended
family and multi-generational households, old age pensions do have the potential
to reach not only the direct recipients but also working-age adults and children
(Bertrand et al, 2003; Ardington et al, 2009). As Kakwani et al (2006) point out, the
proportions of children living in poverty are much higher among those children
living in households headed by elderly people. Old age pensions are thus likely
to reach children in poverty and thereby make a considerable contribution to the
reduction of child poverty. For instance, in Namibia, an estimated 28% of social
pension money is spent by pensioners on themselves, but 78% is spent on other
individuals or on the household (for example, on buying food and groceries for the
whole household) (Devereux, 2000). It has to be noted, however, that the extent to
which intra-household distribution is to the benet of children cannot simply be
assumed and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Considering the particular case of old age pensions in South Africa, the largest
social pension scheme in Sub-Saharan Africa, a number of studies have pointed to
their benecial side-eects for children. South Africa’s old age pension scheme was
put in place to support those who were out of the labour force due to age and
could not access a private pension (Bertrand et al, 2003). Edmonds (2005) nds that
the mere anticipation of a substantial and regular cash transfer to elderly people is
associated with higher school enrolment rates and reductions in the hours worked
by children. Actual receipt of an old age pension augments these eects and goes
hand-in-hand with an increase in educational attainment and primary school
completion rates. Duo (2003) nds similar positive associations between old age
pension and child outcomes, albeit with a considerable dierential in terms of their
gendered eect. Old age pensions in South Africa improved health and nutritional
outcomes for girls living in households with pension recipients. Pensions received
by women were found to particularly improve nutritional outcomes for young
girls. In this way, old age pensions respond to children’s practical needs in terms of
their physiological and biological requirements and the fullment of those by other
members in their household. Credit constraints are lifted and allow for access to and
provision of nutrition, healthcare and education. Furthermore, the intra-household
distribution of resources appears to benet children, with a substantial allocation
of resources directed to the improvement of children’s outcomes. Strategic needs,
however, are hardly addressed, as the old age pension policy measure does nothing to
lessen children’s institutional disadvantage by either increasing their own visibility or
strengthening the institutions that speak on their behalf.
Obviously, the positive outcomes of pensions for children have to be considered
within a larger context, bearing in mind that the pension benets also have an impact
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on labour supply and the migration decisions of prime-age household members
(often the children’s parents), as well as fertility decisions. Nevertheless, evidence
does suggest that programmes not designed specically to meet the needs and
vulnerabilities of children do have the potential for a degree of child-sensitivity.
This review of practical examples of social protection interventions shows that
context is of the utmost importance in terms of the claim that social protection can
alleviate child poverty and improve the lives of children. Although the three sets of
interventions described above all have the potential to meet children’s practical and/
or strategic needs, their particular context, design features and delivery methods can
undermine and perpetuate rather than alleviate those needs. Even the most obvious
example of an intervention that claims to be child-sensitive – child-targeted transfers
– does not unequivocally benet children. By the same token, social protection
measures designed to protect a dierent group in society, such as old age pensions,
have the potential to address practical needs of children and carry a degree of child-
sensitivity. As Duo (2003) pointed out, with respect to the old age pension scheme
in South Africa, it is dicult to generalize ndings across Sub-Saharan Africa or the
developing world as a whole, as the South African scheme is of such a nature and
scale that this makes it unique and dicult to replicate. Hence, for social protection
to address children’s physical and biological requirements and to be child-sensitive
(thereby addressing their dependent position and institutional voicelessness and
invisibility), it should be noted that context matters and that the degree of child-
sensitivity of social protection interventions cannot be generalised across place and
In this paper, we argue that there is a need for a more concrete and clearer
understanding of child-sensitive social protection in order for social protection to
meet both the practical and the strategic needs of children. Such an understanding
is currently not provided by existing denitions and guidelines, such as UNICEF’s
Joint Statement, given their generalist and all-purpose nature. In this paper, we
elaborate on three particular elements of child vulnerability that social protection
should address in order to be labelled child-sensitive. These three elements pertain
to children’s practical needs, being their biological and physical requirements, as
well as their strategic needs, referring to children’s limited levels of autonomy and
their dependence on adults for receiving care and support, as well as to children’s
institutional invisibility and lack of voice in the larger policy agenda.
The practical examples, and their degree of ‘child-sensitivity’ in terms of their
response to children’s practical and strategic needs, show that no set of interventions
can be considered child-sensitive across the board. Claims about what makes social
protection child-sensitive and concurrent claims of child-sensitivity are often made
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302 A child-sensitive approach to social protection
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on (widely agreed) assumptions rather than sound and rm evidence about what
works for children in a particular situation. There are no universal truths about how
to design and deliver child-sensitive social protection and the degree to which a
policy, instrument or intervention meets children’s practical and strategic needs is
highly context-, design- and delivery-specic. Despite overwhelming evidence for
the positive eects of certain instruments on child well-being, we should not be
tempted to generalise and turn a blind eye to those contexts or groups of children
for which those ndings do not hold true. The term ‘child-sensitive’ should be used
with caution in order to avoid it becoming a misnomer and to ensure that it denotes
policy initiatives that truly aim to improve children’s lives. Although the examples
used in this paper are primarily from a developing country context, this message also
holds with respect to developed countries. The suggestion by Standing (2011) that
the expanding popularity of CCTs from developing countries to countries such as
the US and UK hinges on ‘libertarian paternalism’ rather than evidence of improved
outcomes makes a deeper and evidence-based understanding of CSSP very pertinent.
On a more positive note, children’s unique risks also make for unique opportunities.
The practical examples in this paper suggest that CSSP need not be a separate
stream or form of social protection. All types of interventions have the potential
to carry a degree of child-sensitivity, responding to one or more of children’s
practical and strategic needs. Further research is required to investigate the extent to
which measures and interventions can respond to all needs simultaneously without
undermining their initial objectives or exacerbating the needs and vulnerabilities of
other social and demographic groups.
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Keetie Roelen
Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK
... Children's needs are different from that of the adults and failure to fulfil their needs exposes them to a cycle of poverty. Therefore, it is now beyond argument in the development discourse that poverty (or wellbeing) of children should be considered separately from that of the adults (Roelen, 2015;Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012;Ortiz, Daniels and Solrun Engilbertsdottir 2012). While social protection is now often credited to be a successful tool for poverty reduction in general (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012: 291), its impact as well as potential impact on reducing poverty of children has also got attention of the social protection academia and practitioners (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012: 291). ...
... Institutionalised disadvantage: Institutionalised disadvantage or 'cultural devaluation disadvantage' means, "to the devaluation of certain groups in society based on perceptions of who they are" (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012: 295). To explain this (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler (2012) points, "if society at large places little value on women or children, the vulnerabilities associated with this type of disadvantage present themselves in the form of voicelessness of these populations, lack of recognition, lack of representation and often entrenched inequalities that can provide fertile grounds for the deliberate abuse and exclusion of these groups. (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012: 295) ...
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Qawmi madrasas were evolved in the Indian subcontinent more than 150 years ago by the conservative part of the Muslim community as a rejection to the British education policy. Instead of taking funding from the state, these madrasas took community support as their basis for survival. These madrasas have been providing fundamental Islamic religious education since that time Keeping the curricula almost unchanged. Even after more than 70 years of the end of the colonial rule and many subsequent historical upheavals, the madrasas have still been maintaining almost the same conservativeness with the government. Even today, the madrasas solely rely on people’s donation. Studies say there are at least 1.4 million children in about 15000 qawmi madrasas in Bangladesh. Studies also say that the madrasas have a concentration of children from low income households, including orphans and vulnerable children, who cannot afford education in the mainstream secular institutes. However, the country’s constitution and other significant policies aspire to social protection initiatives for such vulnerable groups. While Bangladesh’s social protection expenditure has been increasing every year with a large number of child-focused programmes, there is no study so far if these programmes include the children in qawmi madrasas. This study is an attempt to investigate into the outreach of the child-focused social protection programmes to qawmi madrasas in Bangladesh. At the same time, it has identified the policy berries at the government end as well as the barriers (reservations) at the recipient end (madrasas) to receive support from the government (i.e., social protection). A mixed-method approach for data collection and analysis has been approached with an emphasis on qualitative techniques such as key informant interviews and focus group discussions with various stakeholders such as madrasa teachers and governing body members, government officials implementing major social protection schemes in education and social sectors, NGOs working on child rights, and researchers/scholars on education and child rights. Review of relevant government policies and programmes has also been another significant source of data and information. The study has come up with several crucial findings. Almost all the child-focused social protection schemes exclude children in qawmi madrasas by design. Most of them target children through institutional arrangements, e.g., school education stipend. Registration of the institute with any government department and an approved curriculum are essential criteria for inclusion. The view of the departments implementing the major child-focused social protection schemes and other stakeholders is that the children in qawmi madrasas deserve support from the government in terms of social protection. However, unless the madrasas are following government rules (e.g., registration, curriculum etc.), there is no scope to include them. Lack of interest to come under a government system is also another reason for this exclusion. Madrasas are surviving solely on donations of the people, which is insufficient for the wellbeing of the children. However, they will accept any support if the government only provides it without any condition. Tension about too much control/influence by the government has also been viewed as another reservation by the madrasas. Whatever the reasons are, because of this rigidity of both of the parties, the children are being deprived of state benefits which have immediate and long-term implications. There is scope for supporting the children with/without any change and modification of the curricula which must be decided by the state. The recent recognition of the highest degree of qawmi madrasas by the government may bring about severe changes in the policies in the future.
... As mainstream development policy planning is moving towards more transformative models of social protection, there are pressures for CTPs to go beyond basic income support (Molyneux et al. 2016). Incorporating specific initiatives aimed at addressing children's strategic needs (Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler 2012) and involving children in the design and evaluation of these programmes are necessary steps forward to improve children's well-being. Institutional Review Board Statement: Ethical review and approval were waived for this study, due to it being a required research component of a postgraduate degree that already had generic approval by the International Institute of Social Studies at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. ...
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This paper analyses data from a qualitative study undertaken with children and their families in two cash transfer programmes (CTPs) in Pakistan. Using a three-dimensional child well-being model that distinguishes material, relational and subjective dimensions, it argues that CTPs have helped extremely poor families sustain their basic dietary needs and marginally increase their health spending. Additional conditional payments have led to increased primary school enrolments, but CTPs have failed to address the distinctive vulnerabilities of children, including their nutritional needs, relational well-being and social status. A more holistic and child-sensitive approach to social protection would be the way forward to improve child well-being in line with the United Nations Charter on Rights of Children (UNCRC) to which Pakistan is a signatory.
... Hence, to examine such factors in detail, key principles of child-sensitive social protection [28] has been used to explain the possible reason for heterogeneous effects of the social transfer on child labour. The child-sensitive social protection approach is built on the assertion that children's vulnerability is multidimensional, therefore recognising children's context of work is equally critical [62]. The current review has summarised some of the following factors, possibly explaining the mixed outcome, and it is described in Table 4 as follows. ...
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Child labour remains a prevalent global concern, and progress toward eradicating harmful children’s work appears to have stalled in the African continent and henceforth, integrated social policy intervention is still required to address the problem. Among several forms of social policy interventions, stomach infrastructure (i.e., in-kind and/or cash transfers) have been a key policy approach to support vulnerable families to lighten households’ resources burden, which forces them to consider child labour as a coping strategy. There is growing evidence on the impacts of these programs in child labour. However, this evidence is often mixed regarding children’s work outcomes, and the existing studies hardly describe such heterogeneous outcomes from the child-sensitive approach. To this end, a systematic literature search was conducted for studies in African countries. From 743 references retrieved in this study, 27 studies were included for the review, and a narrative approach has been employed to analyse extracted evidence. Results from the current study also demonstrate a mixed effect of in-kind and cash transfers for poor households on child labour decisions. Hence, the finding from the current review also demonstrates a reduced participation of children in paid and unpaid work outside the household due to in-kind and cash transfers to poor households, but children’s time spent in economic and non-economic household labour and farm and non-farm labour, which are detrimental to child health and schooling, has been reported increasing due to the program interventions. The question remains how these programs can effectively consider child-specific and household-related key characteristics. To this end, a child-sensitive social protection perspective has been applied in this study to explain these mixed outcomes to inform policy design.
... Inspired by Thomas' notions of 'barriers to being' and 'barriergs to doing' [2] and underpinned by a human rights approach, our innovative lens seeks to explore the challenges that PWA and their families face in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in countries where discrimination against PWA is common. Our integrated framework incorporates sensitive approaches to social protection, useful in countries of low economic resource [3]. It can keep us alert to the barriers 'to being' and 'to doing' that might exacerbate the vulnerability of PWA. ...
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Background: Albinism is an inherited condition with a relatively high prevalence in populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. People with oculocutaneous albinism have little or no pigment in their hair, skin and eyes; thus they are visually impaired and extremely sensitive to the damaging effect of the sun on their skin. Aside from the health implications of oculocutaneous albinism, there are also significant sociocultural risks. The impacts of albinism are particularly serious in areas that associate albinism with legend and folklore, leading to stigmatisation and discrimination. In regions of Africa those with albinism may be assaulted and sometimes killed for their body parts for use in witchcraft-related rites or to make 'lucky' charms. There is a dearth of research on the psychosocial aspects of albinism and particularly on how albinism impacts on the everyday lives of people with albinism. Discussion: There is a growing recognition and acceptance in Africa that people with albinism should be considered disabled. Thomas's social-relational model of disability proposes it is essential to understand both the socio-structural barriers and restrictions that exclude disabled people (barriers to doing); and the social processes and practices which can negatively affect their psycho-emotional wellbeing (barriers to being). In this article, we combine a social model of disability with discussion on human rights to address the lacuna surrounding the psychosocial and daily experiences of people with albinism. Conclusion: Through using this combined framework we conclude that the rights of people with albinism in some regions of Africa are not being enacted. Our debate highlights the need to develop a holistic concept of rights for children and young people with albinism which sees human rights as indivisible. We illuminate some of the specific ways in which the lives of children with albinism could be improved by addressing 'barriers to being' and 'barriers to doing', at the heart of which requires a shift in attitude and action to address discrimination.
... As Roelen and Sabates-Wheeler (2012) suggest, the remit of social protection could be broadened to tackle poverty, vulnerability, poor delivery and patterns of exclusion. ...
Food insecurity, the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of safe, nutritious food, is a persistent problem in rural Ethiopia. However, little qualitative research has explored how food insecurity affects children over time, from their point of view. What are the effects of economic ‘shocks’ such as illness, death, loss of livestock, drought and inflation on availability of food, and children's well-being? To what extent do social protection schemes (in this case, the Productive Safety Net Programme) mitigate the long-term effects of food insecurity for children? The paper uses a life-course approach, drawing on analysis of four rounds of qualitative longitudinal research conducted in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014, with eight case study children, as part of Young Lives, an ongoing cohort study. Children's descriptions of the importance of food and a varied diet (dietary diversity) in everyday life were expressed in a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, group discussions and creative methods. The paper suggests that while the overall picture of food security in Ethiopia has improved in the past decade, for the poorest rural families, food insecurity remains a major factor influencing decisions about a range of matters – children's time allocation, whether to continue in school, whether to migrate for work, and whether they marry. The paper argues that experiences of food insecurity need to be understood holistically, in relation to other aspects of children's lives, at differing stages of the life-course during childhood. The paper concludes that nutritional support beyond early childhood needs to be a focus of policy and programming.
... [21] In order to make sense of birth registration and social exclusion in connection with children's access to social protection, the categories of social exclusion, social protection, child-sensitive social protection, and birth registration require explication. Social protection describes responses by public, private, and voluntary organizations and informal networks that are designed to strengthen the capacity of communities, households, and individuals to sufficiently respond to loss of income and assets and risk and vulnerability which emerge in an environment of poverty (ROELEN & SABATES-WHEELER, 2012). Among children, social protection can take the form of universal and categorical provision where all children in a country, region, or defined group benefit. ...
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In response to the persistent problem of deficient birth registration, NGO-led coalitions in Zimbabwe are seeking to build a strong case for prioritizing universal birth registration. Beside efforts to amplify children's right to birth registration as defined in international rights conventions, these coalitions seek to construct a causal relationship between birth registration and social exclusion outcomes. The idea that the absence of birth registration intensifies social exclusion for children has become something of a mantra in birth registration activism, but despite the surveys conducted in Zimbabwe and other developing countries, data to demonstrate the dynamic interplay of birth registration and social exclusion are lacking. In this article I illustrate that qualitative research can bridge this gap and strengthen birth registration activism. URN:
... Adato and Bassett (2012) argue that in contexts where traditional support mechanisms provided by extended families have come under considerable pressure following the HIV/ AIDS epidemic, cash transfers can be an appropriate and effective policy tool. Despite this increasing momentum around 'child-sensitive' social protection (Roelen & Sabates-Wheeler, 2012) and mounting evidence of social protection's positive impact on children's outcomes such as income poverty, nutrition and access to education and health (Attah et al., 2016), little is known about the potential of social protection to address issues of care. Research on the impact of social protection on child protection or care outcomes is limited, and there is little guidance on ways to ensure that social protection promotes family unity and the effective care of children (DFID et al., 2009). ...
Children in Sub-Saharan Africa face stark challenges with respect to care and wellbeing with many children without, or at risk of losing, parental care and experiencing low levels of wellbeing. Poverty is one of the major risk factors for loss of parental care and poor wellbeing, often interacting with other risk factors such as family tensions, violence and HIV/AIDS. Social protection can support children's care and wellbeing through its provision of income transfers and complementary components such as sensitisation and linkages to social services. This article presents findings from cross-country qualitative research regarding the impact of social protection on loss of parental care, support to foster or kinship care and quality of care and wellbeing in Sub-Saharan Africa. It investigates large-scale nationally implemented cash transfer and public works programmes in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. We find that social protection has the potential to support the prevention of loss of parental care, to provide much-needed financial support to kinship or foster carers and to improve child wellbeing and quality of care for all children through direct and indirect income effects as well as psychosocial and behavioural effects. Programmes may also lead to unintended adverse consequences as a result of financial incentives for providing care and work requirements for caregivers in exchange for their transfers. Adequate transfer size, availability of child care services, greater use of sensitisation opportunities, and appropriate roles and responsibilities for social workers and other programme staff are crucial for improving positive impacts and reducing potential negative side effects.
The 74th constitutional amendment paved the path for strengthening of local governments in India, by devolution of functional and financial powers. The elected local representatives (municipal councillors), as the closest link of the Government to the citizenry, are expected to be the bearers of information regarding the needs and priorities of the people they represent. They can become the champions for effective implementation of service delivery schemes designed locally or at higher levels of governance. This study examines the designated and perceived roles of municipal councillors in the context of the implementation of social protection schemes for children in the city of Ahmedabad. Based on the information collected through personal interviews with a sample of 18 municipal councillors over 4 months, the study brings out the stark absence of designated roles for councillors and the limited perceived role in information dissemination. Councillors’ political ambition, experience, and access to the executive machinery come out to be the most critical determinants of the effectiveness of limited mediation role played by councillors to ensure faster delivery of benefits or inclusion of beneficiaries. The need for institutional strengthening and capacity building at the local level also gets substantiated by the analysis.
This article assesses the compliance of key international development actors with children’s right to participation in evaluating social protection programmes they support in Africa. As children in sub-Saharan Africa assume an increasingly large share of global poverty, their right to be heard in these programmes is critical. The article elaborates on the legal requirements for the implementation of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and demonstrates the practical relevance of children’s participation. The article concludes that as children are left out of the design and planning phase of social protection programmes, their role in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) can only be marginal.
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Social protection may be high on the policy agenda in international development circles, but the way it plays out in practice at national and local level is deeply political, especially so when viewed through a gender lens. While there is a robust body of evidence on the gendered patterning of poverty and vulnerability, this is seldom reflected in a systematic way in social protection strategies, policies or programmes. This article therefore explores the political economy of social protection and its effects on gender relations to increase understanding about why social protection debates and approaches have been largely gender-blind.
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The use of behavioural conditionality has spread globally and is linked to the growth of behavioural economics and libertarian paternalism. This comment questions the ethics and effectiveness of this powerful trend and considers the alternative of moving towards universalism and unconditionality.
Available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence. This book is about the opportunities and challenges involved in mainstreaming knowledge about children in international development policy and practice. It focuses on the ideas, networks and institutions that shape the development of evidence about child poverty and wellbeing, and the use of such evidence in development policy debates. It also pays particular attention to the importance of power relations in influencing the extent to which children's voices are heard and acted upon by international development actors. The book weaves together theory, mixed method approaches and case studies spanning a number of policy sectors and diverse developing country contexts in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It therefore provides a useful introduction for students and development professionals who are new to debates on children, knowledge and development, whilst at the same time offering scholars in the field new methodological and empirical insights.
Targeting of Transfers in Developing Countries: Review of Lessons and Experience reviews the lessons learned from 122 antipoverty interventions in 47 transition and developing countries to quantify targeting outcomes and their determinants and to inform the design and implementation of common targeting methods. In addition to providing co mparative quantitative analysis on targeting outcomes and their determinants, the authors provide a qualitative treatment of common targeting methods. In each case, they review international experiences: how the methods work, what determines how well they work, what costs are likely to be incurred, and what are appropriate circumstances for use. The authors also provide a brief review of targeting, discussing the benefits and costs of targeting, methods for assessing targeting performance, and a taxonomy of targeting methods. The findings include the following: • Targeting has the po tential to increase the effectiveness of these interventions; the median program transfers 25 percent more to the poor than a universal or random allocation. However, targeting is not assured to work: about 25 percent of targeted programs actually delivered to the poor less than a universal or random allocation would have. • No sing le preferred method has emerged for all types of programs or all country contexts. Indeed, of all variation observed in targeting outcomes, only 20 percent was accounted for by the choice of targeting method. Means testing, geographic targeting, and self-selection based on a work requirement are the most robustly progressive methods. Proxy means testing, community-based targeting, and demographic targeting to young children can be progressive but demonstrate large variability in outcomes. Demographic targeting to the elderly, subsidization of food commodities, and community bidding for projects show limited potential for good outcomes. • Successful outcomes are critically dependent on the method of implementation.
The deteriorating trend in the incomes of families with young children is of increasing concern to both academics and politicians. Since the well-being of the elderly has improved concomitantly, many see an emerging generational clash. We argue that this zero-sum distributional trade-off view is largely premised on an overly static analysis and prefer, as an alternative, to examine the age-distribution of well-being through the lens of cohort dynamics. The aim of this article is very policy applied, an attempt to identify a win-win policy model that simultaneously ensures child and elderly welfare. We argue that social investments in children now will have strong and positive secondary effects in terms of helping maintain welfare guarantees for the elderly in the future. The key lies in minimizing child poverty, and we evaluate which policy mix may prove most effective for this end. We conclude that, in most countries, the elimination of poverty in families with children would be surprisingly affordable.