The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have jointly lampooned the growing lack of access to social protection initiatives by children in many parts of the world. A study carried out by the two UN agencies reveals that lack of social protection for children will consign them to a life of extreme poverty, with negative implications for society.
According to the study, only one-third of children between zero and 14 years of age have any social protection. Based on this, about two-thirds or 1.3 billion children live without a social safety net.
It also hinted that social protection is critical in helping children escape poverty and its devastating effects. According to it, evidence shows that while cash transfers play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability, yet, globally, only 35 per cent of children on the average are covered by social protection, which reaches 87 per cent in Europe and Central Asia, 66 per cent in the Americas, 28 per cent in Asia, and 16 per cent in Africa.
At the same time, one in five children lives in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day while almost half of the world’s children live in ‘moderate’ poverty (under $3.10 a day). Almost everywhere, poverty disproportionately affects children, as they are twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty. It is regrettable that this obtains despite the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Also, the rapid expansion of child and family benefits with the aim of achieving universal social protection for children has not been considered by various counties. Such policies to improve access to nutrition, health and education, as well as reducing child labour, child poverty and vulnerability should be implemented by governments the world over, especially in developing countries.
However, it is encouraging that some developing countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mongolia and South Africa have made impressive strides in this direction. We hope that other countries that are still struggling with limited coverage, inadequate benefit levels, will soon join this league. It is equally disappointing that some governments undergoing fiscal consolidation are even cutting allowances, instead of extending benefits as agreed in the SDGs. We urge developing countries to have the political will to prioritise the welfare of children through social protection initiatives. We say this because poverty affects children so much and places on them and the society consequences that can last a lifetime. Squalor, poor nutrition and lost education years, apparently resulting from child labour or abandonment are tragic, both for the individual child and for his or her community and society.
We, therefore, enjoin countries to put children first and reach every child with social protection to end child poverty. The era of paying lip service to this noble commitment should be over because it can make a big difference in their lives. Government and civil society organisations should work together and ensure that children are given social protection. We urge all countries in Africa to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (UNCRC). Good enough, most countries including Nigeria have domesticated it. The treaty sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children. The acceptance of the convention clearly shows global commitment to advance children’s rights, but regrettably, it has not been effectively implemented by many countries.
Unfortunately, the African Charter on the Rights of the Child has not been observed by many countries on the continent. The increasing number of orphaned children underscores the need for the establishment of social protection initiatives for children. The Federal Government should continue to implement policies that provide social protection for children.