Just imagine what it must be for a child to be born and to grow up in a setting where her family and community do not have the means to provide her with adequate nutrition, education, health and protection. When layered with the inability of the government/state to provide for its people, then we are talking of a context that is fragile and where children and their families face an uncertain future. According to OECD, “Fragility, is the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacities of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks.” (OECD 2002).
Human capital is a critical asset and building block for stability and development in fragile contexts, yet nearly half, i.e 41.6% of an estimated 356 million children living in extreme poverty worldwide, live in fragile contexts (Silwal et al 2020). Investing in the human capital development of children can have economic and social gains for nation states. It is well known that adequate nutrition, health, education and protection creates a strong foundation for children to transition into adulthood with skills, knowledge and confidence to engage effectively in the labour market and contribute to the economy.
With its focus on reducing poverty and vulnerability, social protection is a vital policy and programme measure to enable financial and social access to children in poor and vulnerable households to basic services essential for human capital development and to catapult them out of poverty. However, social protection systems in low resource fragile states are often nascent or absent thereby requiring focused and concerted efforts to build/strengthen them.
Figure 1 - Components of a child-sensitive social protection system
Source: UNICEF 2019.
Social protection system (Figure 1) includes four interlinked components that work in tandem with each other to prevent or protect all people against poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion throughout their life-course, with a particular emphasis towards vulnerable groups. While the components of a social protection system  are common across all contexts, their features and entry points to develop or strengthen them depends on the country context. This blog presents key considerations for strengthening or building social protection for children in `low resource fragile contexts’:
1. Low resource fragile contexts typically present a combination of acute and chronic needs with each reinforcing the other. It is therefore important to adopt an approach that blends both a short- and long-term perspective to policy development and programming. In simple words this would mean a combined approach that must ensure children’s acute needs are protected in the immediate term (via humanitarian assistance) and concurrently investments are made in longer term policies and programmes to address multi-dimensional poverty.
2. A significant number of children living in multi-dimensional and persistent poverty, conflict (active and latent) and forced displacement are common backdrops in low resource fragile contexts. Durable solutions in such contexts, require an approach that helps with building confidence in the state while strengthening social cohesion. A universal approach to policy and programming that reaches a larger population, is easily understood by communities and is administratively less challenging. It is also an important mechanism to `do no harm’ and to repair existing fissures in the community.
3. Vulnerabilities and human capital needs are not same for all age groups, therefore, a social protection approach that aligns with different stages of the lifecycle is likely to be most effective. However, resource constraints may restrict the roll out of social protection for all in low resource fragile contexts. As children are the most vulnerable in their early years of life and investments made at this stage have long term implications, an incremental approach to social protection system building, starting with a focus on the early years of life is critical for giving children a positive start in life in such contexts while also setting a strong foundation for their as well as the country’s future. A focus on early years of life also offers a strong entry point to focus on women’s needs and empowerment, especially in contexts where working on women’s rights is politically challenging.
4. Fragility can be localized affecting some parts of the country or opportunities for social protection system building in fragile contexts may present themselves at sub national levels where local governments/authorities are not perceived as contributors to the fragility of the context. Combining a sub national and lifecycle approach to social protection system with a focus on early years of life would be a pragmatic approach to initiating the process of building or strengthening a nascent social protection system for children in low resource fragile context settings. This would mean starting small, starting locally and starting with the low hanging fruits to demonstrate the possibilities for social protection system building in fragile contexts.
5. Overlapping, diverse and recurrent shocks are among the key causes of fragility in low resource settings. It is imperative therefore for social protection system to be responsive and adaptive to covariate shocks. This means building an analysis of risks into the design of programmes and their operations while also embedding it into the policy and legislative framework. This would allow the social protection system to support children and their families when they need it the most and to ensure that investments in human capital development are not disrupted as a result of a shock.
6. As the social protection systems are often not fully mature in low resource fragile contexts, their operational mechanisms for delivering social assistance are likely to be nascent too. These are also the contexts where humanitarian assistance is delivered year upon year through an operational system established by humanitarian agencies. Components of the operational systems established for delivering humanitarian assistance/programmes such as cash delivery mechanism, grievance redress, information management etc. can serve as the basis for social protection system building. This would mean leveraging programmes, especially cash programmes, to build systems, starting with operational systems, as compared to the classic approach of establishing a policy and legislative framework first.
7. Addressing multi-dimensional and persistent poverty among children requires an intersectoral approach wherein social protection enables social and financial access to basic services for children. This would entail accompanying social assistance, especially cash transfers, with complementary services and support to address multiple deprivation and seize opportunities for empowering those socially excluded.
8. Nascent public finance management, including weak domestic revenue and budgeting result in modest allocation of resources for social protection and other social sectors in low resource fragile contexts. Much social protection efforts are externally financed, by donors – both humanitarian and development. It is critical to coordinate funding between donors and across the humanitarian & development streams, to support a coherent and long-term plan for social protection for children in low resource fragile contexts.
9. Women and girls disproportionately bear the brunt of fragility in low resource settings through a denial of investment in their human capital development, shouldering caring responsibilities while at the same time being severely exposed to exploitation, abuse and threat of GBV. It is crucial that social protection policies and programmes are designed and implemented in ways that create opportunities for the fulfillment of the rights of women and girls, and enable their empowerment at different stages of the lifecycle.
10. Lastly, the focus on social protection in fragile contexts is a relatively recent phenomenon. This translates into limited availability of information and evidence. It is critical to embed evidence collection and contribute to knowledge sharing, specifically on the impacts of social protection on multi-dimensional poverty and deprivation faced by children in such contexts.
- OECD. 2022. States of Fragility 2022. Executive Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/c7fedf5e-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/c7fedf5e-en
- Silwal, A. R., Engilbertsdottir, S., Cuesta, J., Newhouse, D., Stewart, D. World Bank Group. 2020. Global Estimate of Children in Monetary Poverty: An Update. Poverty & Equity. Discussion Paper. World Bank Group. Retrieved from: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/966791603123453576/pdf/Global-Estimate-of-Children-in-Monetary-Poverty-An-Update.pdf
- UNICEF. 2019. UNICEF's Global Social Protection Programme Framework. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org/media/64601/file/Global-social-protection-programme-framework-2019.pdf
 Evidence base, Policy and legislative framework, Programmes and administration or delivery system.