Roadmap to national policies and programmes for addressing child poverty and deprivation

Wednesday December 01 2021
Save the Children.

A child holds up art work. PHOTO | SAVE THE CHILDREN

The Africa Platform for Social Protection and Save the Children International East and Southern Africa Regional Office, have developed a guide to support child-sensitive social protection programmes in Africa.

The guide gives an understanding of child-sensitive social protection as “public policies, programmes and systems that address the specific patterns of children’s poverty and vulnerability, are rights-based in approach and recognise the long term developmental benefits of investing in children” (Save the Children, International, 2020). 

The guide similarly gives an overview of the international conventions that oblige governments to develop social protection initiatives targeting children. It discusses key steps in the design, implementation and monitoring of child-sensitive social protection programmes. It also addresses the policies, strategies and laws crucial to having effective child-sensitive social protection programmes. The document gives guidelines on how to identify gaps in existing social protection schemes for children and how to address them. Importantly, the guide discusses factors that determine how child-sensitive a social protection programme is.

The guide targets policymakers and implementers of social protection programmes in government and non-state sectors who are seeking to initiate child-sensitive social protection or strengthen existing initiatives. It advocates for holistic rights-based child-sensitive social protection programmes. Regardless of economic status, states have the obligation to undertake policy, legislative, budgetary and administrative measures to increase and improve the quality of public investments in children.

Countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are required to budget appropriately for children. Budgetary measures include mobilising resources regionally and nationally towards implementation of children’s rights, including those who are internally displaced, refugees, girls, and those belonging to minority social and religious groups.

Nalishebo and Namonje enjoying their High Energy Protein supplement.

Nalishebo and Namonje enjoying their High Energy Protein supplement provided by Save the Children through a school feeding programme. PHOTO | MALAMA MWILA | SAVE THE CHILDREN


To give social-economic context, the document explains the kind of vulnerabilities faced by many children in Africa. There is increasing recognition that beyond income poverty, a large proportion of children are affected by more than one type of deprivation with regard to education, health, shelter, water and sanitation.

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative index shows that 63.5 percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa are multi-dimensionally poor. This is the highest incidence of multidimensional poverty among developing regions.  In countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger and South Sudan, 90 percent or more of children under the age of 10 are multi-dimensionally poor.

The guide gives steps to be taken before initiating a child-sensitive social protection programme. First is to understand the extent and reasons for child poverty and vulnerability in the given context. This is done by analysis of primary and/or secondary data. This exercise clarifies the incidence, types and levels of child deprivation and vulnerability.

Primary data collection aims at assessing availability of services such as health care, education, water and sanitation, nutrition and shelter, as well as the quality of services offered. Primary data collection also involves assessing the knowledge, attitudes and practices of a community that may contribute to factors that impact negatively on child development.

Analysis of secondary data also helps to determine the kinds of vulnerabilities facing children. For example, a child-sensitive social protection intervention that aims to reduce harmful child labour and improve school attendance may look at data and trends for literacy, school attendance regularity and retention, and harmful child labour, and then break these down by gender and different socio-economic groups.

The next step after analysing the types of vulnerabilities children face is to identify gaps and opportunities in policy, laws and programmes with regard to existing child-sensitive social protection programmes. This is done by reviewing background information, design, operational features, and the monitoring and evaluation system of programmes.

Identifying gaps in social protection policies is crucial. This step helps programmes, policies and laws to become more sensitive to specific needs of children. Knowledge gained from this exercise also helps to inform and shape advocacy on child-sensitive social protection with state and non-state actors.

One way of gaining political support for child-sensitive social protection is to engage in advocacy. Advocacy can be targeted to line ministries in charge of children, gender, social protection, finance, education, health, housing, water and sanitation, among others. Advocacy can also be targeted at members of parliament or parliamentary house committees in charge of social welfare or social protection.

Other targets of advocacy include the media, partners who support governments in implementing social protection programmes, and civil society organisations. Regional level advocacy can involve working with the African Union or other regional blocks, such as the Southern Africa Development Co-operation, the East African Community and the Economic Community of West African States. Advocacy targeting regional and international human rights institutions is also important so as to enhance accountability for child-sensitive social protection programming.

Appraisal of programmes, policy and laws can reveal opportunities for inter-agency cooperation, including between government and non-state entities. This process involves review of background of programmes as well as implementing and financing agencies. It also looks at design and operational features, and the methods used to determine eligibility to social protection programmes. 

Policy and legal review can lead to further opportunities. For example, it can show gaps in connecting existing social protection and other complementary programmes. A good instance of complementary linkages is the Livelihood Against Poverty programme in Ghana, which has been able to link cash transfer with subsidised enrolment in the National Health Insurance Scheme. In this instance, cash transfer has been linked to insurance support in order to address multidimensional vulnerability. The Cash Plus programme in Tanzania and South Africa’s child grant have also been able to link cash transfer with other complementary social protection measures.

The next step is to use the knowledge gained from the surveys, analysis and reviews to design viable and appropriate child-sensitive social protection interventions. Social protection interventions are divided into three categories: social assistance, social insurance and labour market.

Social assistance includes regular and predictable cash transfers, vouchers or in-kind assistance such as school meals that do not require a contribution from the beneficiary. Examples of cash transfers include maternal and child grants, pensions, disability grants, widowhood grants, etc. Social assistance also includes subsidies or fee waivers for goods and basic services.

Social insurance beneficiaries typically support it by making contributions, though it may be subsidised by the government, especially for the poorest. Examples are health and accident insurance, disability insurance, maternity benefits, workplace pensions or unemployment benefits. Labour market policies and interventions include livelihood programmes, skills training, minimum wage policy, wage subsidies, maternity policy, and protection in the workplace.

Intervention could also be in the form of strengthening social protection programmes at policy and legal levels. This helps existing policy and legal frameworks to become more sensitive to child rights and child protection. There is an opportunity to promote and incorporate principles of child-sensitive social protection in situations where there are no specific policies and laws on social protection.

The guide stresses the importance of children’s participation. The level of child participation can be assessed by analysing the extent to which girls and boys of different ages, and their care givers, are able to access and benefit from social protection at each point in their life cycle. It is therefore crucial for these services to be indiscriminately available and accessible to all children and their families.

Celina's daughter, Rose, gets checked for malaria at Save the Children's mobile clinic in Uganda.

Celina's daughter, Rose, gets checked for malaria at Save the Children's mobile clinic in Imvepi refugee settlement, Uganda. PHOTO | FREDRIK LERNERYD | SAVE THE CHILDREN

Children’s participation is one of the factors that indicate a child-sensitive approach to social protection. Other principles of child-sensitive social protection include respect for children’s views which should be canvassed without intimidation, respect for their views, and protection of children against all kinds of risks. Additional principles are inclusivity of all children regardless of gender, religion or other classification. Child-sensitive programmes also give feedback to children on how their participation has influenced outcomes. Additionally, child-sensitive programmes have adults who are trained to work with children.

The guide notes that most of the existing social accountability tools do not monitor the outcomes of social protection programmes for children. Monitoring the impact of social protection programmes is often limited to measuring reduction of poverty levels, increased food consumption, and improvements in livelihoods in households.

However, child-sensitive social protection goes beyond poverty reduction and food consumption, and considers the needs of children in the beneficiary households, including access to services such as sanitation, education, health, water and nutrition, among others. It is important to have a participatory monitoring approach, which involves beneficiaries and communities. Listening to and learning from programme beneficiaries, including children, is critical in making programme improvements.

Finally, the guide discusses factors that determine how child sensitive a social protection programme is. These factors include the extent to which girls and boys of different ages and their caregivers are able to access and benefit from social protection at each point in their life cycle, degree of positive impact on children by age, gender and different forms of vulnerability, and to what extent the intervention has minimised negative and adverse consequences for children.

About the Africa Platform for Social Protection:

Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP) is a network of organisations operating at sub-national, national and regional levels across Africa. APSP exists to strengthen civil society engagement with the articulation, formulation and implementation of social protection policies and programmes.

The network’s goal and purpose is to support the development of effective national social protection policies and programmes for people facing poverty and exclusion, and thereby contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the Social Policy Framework (SPF).

About Save the Children

Save the Children has been providing support to children across the world for over 100 years, through a combination of development and humanitarian programmes. We work with communities, local partners, and the government to design and deliver programmes to meet the needs of the most deprived children. We also advocate for greater investment of public and private resources for children.

For the full Guide to Developing Child Sensitive Social Protection Programmes in Africa, visit

*Sponsored by the Africa Platform for Social Protection in collaboration with Save the Children.