The webinar Non-contributory Social Protection in South Asia: An overview from a child, equity and gender perspective took place on May 28, 2020 and was organised by International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) and The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. The webinar was moderated by Abdul Alim (Regional Social Policy Advisor, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia), who was joined by the speakers Pedro Arruda, Charlotte Bilo and Yannick Markhof (Researchers at IPC-IG).

This webinar constitutes the first of the webinar series Social Protection in South Asia - the landscape before COVID-19, a snapshot into responses to the crisis and the paths ahead. The goal of the three first webinars of the series is to introduce the main findings of five new comparative studies, developed by the IPC-IG in partnership with UNICEF´s Regional Office for South Asia.

The first webinar kicked off the series by presenting the findings of the new study “Overview of Non-contributory Social Protection Programmes in South Asia from a Child and Equity Perspective”. You can access related One Pagers that summarise the general overview and the specific assessment of child-sensitive design features and social protection coverage. The webinar was divided in two parts:

  1. An overview of a sample of 51 non-contributory social protection programmes, which were compared on in terms of coverage, benefits, targeting mechanisms, and target groups, along with a discussion of the child-sensitive design features of these programmes; and
  2. An analysis of gender issues within social protection in South Asia, by discussing the programmes’ gender-sensitive features as well as looking at existing evidence on the programmes’ impacts on gender-relevant outcomes.


You can watch the recording here and see the presentation here.


Key features of non-contributory social protection in South Asia

Most non-contributory social protection programmes in South Asia has common characteristics. In total, the study classified programmes within 15 different programme types. It’s important to remark that a programme can belong to more than one type, since the same programme can provide interventions of different nature. 

A great number of programmes in the sample focus on a single initiative, while more than 25% of the programmes assessed are more comprehensive, encompassing different and equally strong components. Further, many programmes employ a good balance between highly complex initiatives yielding multiple benefits.  On the other hand, there are also some highly specialised programmes more centred around one type of intervention. In this regard, at one extreme, larger countries such as Pakistan and India tend to have programmes with multiple components, promoting several interventions and, at the other extreme, countries such as Maldives have smaller programmes, each promoting a more specific intervention.

When it comes to targeting mechanisms, the study analysed all targeting groups from all interventions. It is relevant to highlight that programmes can use multiple targeting mechanisms in order to reach the desired population (and, indeed, that is the case for most of the programmes). Larger countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan seem to cover more groups under each programme, whereas smaller countries such as Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan cover less groups per programme. Also, meanwhile poverty and childhood are the most prevalent eligibility criteria, gender and disability are the most important prioritisation criteria. The most common targeting mechanisms are categorical targeting, means test, proxy means testing and geographic criteria.

Regarding the qualifying conditions, around 25% of all programmes apply conditionalities. Further, it was found that all conditional programmes employ categorical targeting, being 75% of these programmes targeted at children. Most conditionalities refer to life cycle specific enablers, such as school-related conditionalities for children and perinatal medical visits for pregnant and lactating women. In this way, women are also targeted in conditional programmes.

The types of benefits also have shared some characteristics among the countries in the sample; cash is the most predominant type of benefit delivered, and food distribution programmes reach most beneficiaries (mainly due to India’s targeting public distributing system). Most programmes (66%) only yield one type of benefit. Concerning delivery mechanisms, banks and service point payment stations are the two most common modalities for delivering cash transfers. Also, it is worth noting that 12 of 38 programmes that provide cash use more than one payment modality.

Although the programmes have many common characteristics, they also present some differences. Regarding the coverage differences across countries, they are in line with their demographic differences.


Addressing vulnerabilities of children

How do these programmes address the main vulnerabilities of children and how many children do they reach?

The analysis considered five child-sensitive design features: (i) programmes targeting children and pregnant/lactating women; (ii) supporting children’s access to education; (iii) supporting children’s access to nutrition; (iv) supporting children’s access to health and (v) cash benefits increase with the number of household members/children. The most common child-sensitive design feature in the region is to directly target children. Yet, most of the programmes targeting children are for school-aged children. Hence, children under the age of 6 years are targeted less often.

The second most common type of child-sensitive programmes supports children’s access to education, such as scholarships, as well as cash transfer programmes in which the benefit is paid per individual child or the benefit increased per additional child in a household.



However, it is unknown how many children programmes throughout South Asia actually cover. Often programme coverage is only reported in terms of total beneficiaries, without any disaggregation by age. Therefore, the study proposed an estimation of the proportion of children covered. It was concluded that most programmes cover around 10 per cent of all children in South Asian countries, where children account for an average of 30 % of the population.


Gender-sensitive design

To what extent do these programmes consider gendered needs and vulnerabilities in their design?

The study also analysed whether the objectives of the programmes in the sample clearly stated progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Indeed, about half of all programmes seek to address gender-based vulnerabilities, with the most common being barriers to education, maternity-related health and/or income risks, widowhood/ single women and single parents, and barriers to the labour market. However, there is little evidence regarding the mechanisms to monitor the achievement of these objectives.



The study led to the conclusion that social protection programmes alone will not change discriminatory gender norms but can help address gender- and age- based vulnerabilities and risks. Also, despite some positive examples, governments in the region still do not significantly invest on making their social protection systems more gender-sensitive. In this regard, some key gaps were identified, such as lack of comprehensive grievance and complaints mechanisms as well as of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that include gender outcomes. It is prime to highlight the importance of conducting gender assessments prior to implementation, so there is a proper baseline to assess the programmes’ results. Moreover, review of design features is a first step, but implementation assessments are also crucial.


The webinar concluded with an interesting Q&A session that can be accessed here


This was the first webinar of the Series ''Social Protection in South Asia – the landscape before the Covid-19, and a snapshot into responses to the crisis and the paths ahead'', jointly organised by the IPC-IG, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), and Country Offices.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Conditional cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
        • Conditional in-kind transfers
        • Unconditional in-kind transfers
        • School feeding programmes
    • Subsidies
      • Price subsidies
        • Food subsidies
        • Housing subsidies
      • Service subsidies
        • Health benefits / reduced medical fee
    • Social care services
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Public works programmes
        • Cash for work
      • Public procurement from self-employes, microentrepreneurs and smallholder farmers
      • Productive / economic inclusion programmes
      • Job training
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Feedback and complaints mechanisms
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
  • Programme design
    • Benefits design
    • Conditionalities
    • Targeting
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Programme graduation
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Education
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Gender
  • Health
    • Child health
    • Maternal health
  • Labour market / employment
  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • India
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • South Asia
The views presented here are the author's and not's