Universal Child Benefits: Transforming the lives of children across South Asia

This is a working document intended to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and to stimulate discussion. The paper presents analysis that demonstrates the viability and urgency of all countries in South Asia to invest in social security for children as stipulated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child – especially considering the COVID-19 crisis. It explores options for introducing Universal Child Benefits (UCBs) in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and estimates their potential costs, coverage and impacts; demonstrating that it would be possible for all governments in South Asia to act immediately. UCBs would imply a relatively low cost, especially when providing first benefits to the youngest children, and expanding age eligibility over time. Smartly designed UCB would vastly improve food security among recipient households, enable families to invest in children’s learning. It would also have significant impacts on national child poverty, while reducing inequality across the region; with spillover impacts on economic growth and on the social contract.