Before the pandemic, two-thirds of children worldwide did not have access to any form of social protection, making it impossible for families to withstand financial shocks when they hit and furthering the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. Only 16 per cent of children in Africa are covered by social protection.
Hundreds of millions of children remain multidimensionally poor—meaning they lack access to health care, education, proper nutrition, or adequate housing—often a reflection of inequitable investments by governments in social services.
For children living in countries already affected by conflict and violence, the impact of this crisis will further increase the risk of instability and of households falling into poverty. The Middle East and North Africa region, home to the highest number of children in need due to conflict, has the highest unemployment rate among young people, while nearly half of all children in the region live in a multidimensional poverty.
To address and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on children in poor households, Save the Children and UNICEF call for rapid and large-scale expansion of social protection systems and programmes including cash transfers, school feeding and child benefits – all critical investments that address immediate financial needs and lay the foundation for countries to prepare for future shocks.
Governments must also invest in other forms of social protection, fiscal policies, employment and labor market interventions to support families. This includes expanding universal access to quality healthcare and other services; and investing in family friendly policies, such as paid leave and childcare.
Since COVID-19 hit, many countries have already scaled up their social protection programmes. For example:
- In Indonesia, the Kartu Sembako programme, which provides monthly cash assistance for basic family consumption, expanded its reach to 20 million. Monthly cash assistance to families increased from Rp150 thousand to Rp200 thousand;
- In Mongolia, the government increased their Child Money Programme monthly benefit by five times from MNT 20,000 per month to MNT 100,000 for a duration of 6 months.
- In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance programme provided an increase of $3,100 Argentine pesos (US$47) for its current beneficiaries;
- In South Africa, several social protection schemes, including the child support grant which reaches 12.8 million children, are providing additional top-ups.
- In Georgia, the Targeted Social Assistance (TSA) programme will be temporarily expanded to provide support to an additional 70,000 families; as well as provide an extra 100 GEL (US$31) a month to 21,000 TSA households with three or more children for 6 months.
- In Armenia, eligible families enrolled in the family benefit system will receive a top-up equal to 50 per cent of the benefit.
- In Colombia, the government has created the Solidarity Income Program to provide cash transfers to households that do not currently receive benefits from any other National Government programmes. As of 21 May, more than 2 million vulnerable families had received a 320,000 peso transfer (equivalent to US$81) through two equal payments made during March and May.
- In Peru, the Government is providing solidarity bonus to rural households, independent workers and vulnerable families, as well a new universal bond, for 6.8 million households. Specific focus is needed to reach people living in remote areas, indigenous populations and migrants.