Understanding the linkages between social safety nets and childhood violence: a review of the evidence from low- and middle-income countries

As many as one billion children experience violence every year, and household- and community level poverty are among the risk factors for child protection violations. Social safety nets (SSNs) are a main policy tool to address poverty and vulnerability, and there is substantial evidence demonstrating positive effects on children’s health and human capital. This paper reviews evidence and develops a framework to understand linkages between non-contributory SSNs and the experience of childhood emotional, physical and sexual violence in low- and middle-income countries. We catalogue 14 rigorous impact evaluations, 11 of which are completed, analysing 57 unique impacts on diverse violence indicators. Among these impacts, approximately one in five represent statistically significant protective effects on childhood violence. Promising evidence relates to sexual violence among female adolescents in Africa, while there is less clear evidence of significant impacts in other parts of the developing world, and on young child measures, including violent discipline. Further, few studies are set up to meaningfully unpack mechanisms between SSNs and childhood violence; however, those most commonly hypothesized operate at the household level (through increases in economic security and reductions in poverty-related stress), the interpersonal level (improved parental behaviours, caregiving practices, improved psychosocial well-being) and at the child-level (protective education and decreases in problem or risky behaviours). It is important to emphasize that traditional SSNs are never designed with violence prevention as primary objectives, and thus should not be considered as standalone interventions to reduce risks for childhood violence. However, SSNs, particularly within integrated protection systems, appear to have potential to reduce violence risk. Linkages between SSNs and childhood violence are understudied, and investments should be made to close this evidence gap.