Overview of Non-contributory Social Protection Programmes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region through a Child Lens

This webinar, titled Overview of Non-contributory Social Protection Programmes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region through a Child Lens, presented the main findings of an overview of non-contributory social protection programmes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region through a child lens. The webinar was hosted by socialprotection.org and carried out by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This event is the first of the Series of discussions from the new MENA Project Webinar Series.

Arthur van Diesen (Social Policy Advisor, UNICEF MENA Regional) moderated the discussions, while Charlotte Bilo (Researcher, IPC-IG) and Anna Carolina Machado (Researcher, IPC-IG) presented the subject and responded to questions.

The recording is available here and the presentation here.

The state of non-contributory social protection programmes in the MENA region

The webinar began by providing details on the state of non-contributory social protection programmes in the MENA region. Both panellists presented the most prevalent programme types, targeted population groups, as well as targeting mechanisms and other relevant features.

The findings are outcomes of a project that began this year, carried out by UNICEF Middle East and North of Africa Regional Office and the IPC-IG. The objective was to produce an inventory of social protection systems in the MENA region. The discussants presented the main findings of the first study, which will culminate in a publication to be released next year.

The research considered seven different types of programmes:

  • Cash and in-kind transfers (conditional and unconditional);
  • School feeding programmes;
  • Public works programmes (cash-for-work);
  • Educational fee waivers;
  • Housing benefits;
  • Programmes facilitating access to health (health care benefits and non-contributory health insurances);
  • Food and energy subsidies. 

One of the main findings is that, among the 20 countries included in the MENA region, a huge percentage are under 18 years old, and within this group, many are vulnerable children. Eleven Arab States have one in four children suffering from acute multi-dimensional poverty. Accordingly, social protection policies have been designed to reduce both monetary and multi-dimensional poverty. The situation of vulnerability is dramatically increasing in light of the humanitarian crises the region is facing, due to an increase in refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The study mapped more than one hundred social protection programmes, most of which are located in Algeria and Morocco. The mapping does not address programme efficiency, in practical terms, considering variations in size, benefit value and delivery frequency. Even so, it is clear that more than half of the programmes involve cash transfers.

The main target groups are poor households and children. 46 schemes of social protection focus on children, and among them, 23 feature orphans as the target group. It is relevant to highlight that all countries in the MENA region have at least one programme specifically targeting children.

Child-sensitive design features

Researchers Anna Carolina Machado and Charlotte Bilo then presented child-sensitive social protection programme design features:

  • Programmes targeting children;
  • Supporting children’s access to education;
  • Supporting children’s access to nutrition;
  • Supporting children’s access to health;
  • Benefits which increase with the number of household members.

In an effort to demonstrate the differences between programmes targeted at children’s access to health, education and nutrition, the presenters presented an overview of each. More than half of programmes targeting children in the MENA region, cater to children’s access to education, as this is the main concern of the MENA countries. Most of them are include cash or to in-kind transfers schemes.

Regarding children’s nutrition, 20 programmes in 13 countries are linked to nutrition outcomes. Predominantly, this involves school feeding programmes (SFP). Health programmes are the least prevalent, with just eleven schemes.

In the final remarks, the presenters highlighted the fact that the programmes are disproportionately distributed, with more schemes catering to education and few to health and nutrition. What’s more, children below the age of 5 are infrequently targeted.

The moderator, Arthur von Diesel, recognised the need to rationalise the existing social protection programmes, to improve child-sensitive programme design and better cater to pressing needs. He presented five steps for countries for the implementation of social protection systems that are more child-sensitive:

  1. Understand child poverty and vulnerability;
  2. Assess how well current social protection systems are serving children;
  3. Design truly child-sensitive, pro-poor social protection measures;
  4. Think boldly about the fiscal space required;
  5. Boost the shock-responsiveness of systems.

The webinar closed with Arthur moderating the Q&A session:  

  • How do we make social protection systems more sensitive to child needs?
  • What is included and not-included in this first study? Which are the criteria?
  • Are migrant children and migrant refugees included in this study?
  • How do you actually assess the adequacy of these social protection programmes in the MENA region?
  • How efficient are the programmes at the community level?    
  • What are the findings on programmes of social protection towards child labour?


Stay tuned for next year’s webinars on the MENA Project Webinar Series.

Watch the webinar recording here!

This blog post is published as part of the Webinar Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by socialprotection.org and partners on a variety of themes related to social protection. If you have any thoughts on the topic discussed, we would love to hear them. Please add your comments below and we will get back to you.