“Realizing children’s right to social protection is indispensable for combating child poverty” according to the ILO's World Social Protection Report 2020-22. Continued research confirms that the COVID-19 crisis has heightened risks for vulnerable families and children often depriving them of key services and pushing them into poverty, the main driver of child labour. The report details how child-sensitive social protection policies can be powerful tools for policymakers to formulate policies and allocate resources that “serve children’s needs and rights.”
What is social protection?
Social protection refers to the measures “needed to reduce the lifelong consequences of poverty and exclusion” according to UNICEF.
Simply put, social protection is a range services, policies or programmes that help people cover their basic needs in times of distress. These measures can help people deal with temporary strains caused by things like sickness, maternity, or unemployment. They can be emergency relief measures that support people during crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic. They be provisions aimed to prevent serious consequences of poverty, such as malnutrition, unsafe water, or poor education.
Why does social protection matter to children?
Strains can hit parents, families, and children in many ways, which can be happy or sad, large or small, short or long-term. The effects of these bumps, or mountains as they may be, are multiplied for families already struggling to meet basic needs.
The UN Development Programme reports that children are twice as likely to live in multi-dimensional poverty than adults. Half of the 1.3 billion affected people globally is under 18. One in three children is poor compared with one in six adults.
Multi-dimensional poverty takes into account more than just money, including disadvantages that had immediate and lasting effects on children’s lives like limited food or clean water, poor-quality education, no electricity or internet access, lack of access to basic health services. These things can hurt children in the present as well as keep them behind in their development and future success.
Social protection measures, including access to cash programmes and other educational, maternal, health and nutrition services, can help shield children from the consequences of poverty. Investing in children is one of the “smartest investments a country can make to break the cycle of poverty, address inequality, and boost productivity later in life” (World Bank).
Why is social protection crucial in the fight against child labour?
Once we make the connection between how social protection measures are powerful tools to fight poverty, the link with child labour is clear. When parents struggle to make ends meet and children struggle to access food, water, school or other basic services, child labour is often a consequence.
The ILO’s World Social Protection Report 2020-22 report looks at how policy makers can ensure that social protection efforts and systems meet the unique needs and rights of children. It lays out 7 principles for “child-sensitive social protection”:
- avoid adverse impacts on children and reduce or mitigate social and economic risks that affect them;
- intervene as early as possible where children are at risk;
- consider the age- and gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities of children throughout the life cycle;
- mitigate the effects of shocks, exclusion and poverty on families;
- make special provision to reach children who are particularly vulnerable and excluded;
- consider intrahousehold dynamics affecting children;
- allow for the participation of children and caregivers in the understanding and design of social protection systems and programmes.
Ensuring and increasing investments and Social Protection measures is an on-going concern for global policy makers. With the COVID crisis continuing to affect children and families around the world, these measures are a critical part of combatting child labour and shaping a just and sustainable future.