Social Protection System: An Afghan Case Study

Despite Afghans’ strong will to develop state-centric programmes and policies, Afghanistan has always had a feeble state and a strong society. This situation and the 30 years long and on-going war relegated the importance of social protection spending to a position of second importance. The main budget spending was concentrated on security and military expenses. Moreover, the heterogeneity and complexity of the different provinces made a comprehensive social protection difficult to put in place. Despite these obstacles, it is necessary for the Afghan government to develop a social protection system as the Afghan population is mainly counting on solidarity to be able to fulfil its basic social and health needs. For now, in spite of the existence of a National Social Protection Strategy (2008-13), social protection remains very limited in Afghanistan, with children and womensensitive social protection almost non-existent. These two groups are the most vulnerable as their needs are many and core challenges still persist – lack of security, lack of economic development, limited access to health systems, lack of education, child labour and female unemployment.

The election of a new government in 2014 provides an opportunity for substantial changes in government policies and priorities. One of the main changes expected is an increase in the focus on social protection measures. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani highlighted in his acceptance speech the need to delve into new solidarity mechanisms, such as the zakat.

Thus far, one of the most significant attempts at establishing a larger system of social protection is the Afghanistan Pension Administration and Safety Net Project, implemented by the World Bank and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSAMD) aiming to improve the administration of the public pension schemes and develop an administrative system for safety net interventions.1 Started in 2009, this programme has predominantly focused on piloting cash transfer projects in order to test different beneficiaries’ selection criteria and methodologies. A second pilot is due to start in the fall of 2014 and will cover 4 provinces of Afghanistan (excluding Balkh province).

In this context, UNICEF is considering the development of a social protection programme with a specific focus on children, within the already existing framework developed by the World Bank and MoLSAMD. With the end goal of articulating children-sensitive programming with the World Bank’s own safety net programme in mind, the first step in this direction is for the organisation to launch a pilot programme in Balkh to test the best modalities of programming to cover children’s needs for social protection in the country. In the longer run, both organisations aim at increasing the scale of interventions, with the government eventually taking ownership of the system.

In order to support the design of this pilot, UNICEF commissioned Samuel Hall Consulting to conduct formative research in five districts to be targeted by UNICEF. The overall objective of this research project is for Samuel Hall’s research team to advise UNICEF on the design of a child-focused social protection cash transfer programme in Balkh province.