Putting children at the centre of social protection in Nepal

23 May 2016

In recent years, the Nepalese Government has made a concerted effort to address child poverty through their social protection policies and programmes. In light of this, the Centre for Social Protection at IDS and Save the Children have launched a report from the study ‘Improving social protection’s response to child poverty and vulnerability in Nepal’ into the child-sensitive social protection (CSSP). The report highlights the need to address administrative and programmatic challenges in improving support and care for children. 

The study used a lifecycle approach to analyse the effectiveness of Nepal’s government-led welfare schemes with a focus on cash transfers (CTs). To emphasise the points coming from the project in general, the Karnali Zone in the Mid-Western Region of Nepal is a particular relevant case study.

A lifecycle approach in social protection breaks beneficiaries down into developmental categories across people’s lives and tailors programmes according to the needs of these groups. For example pregnant women, infants, children, adolescents, working age or the elderly.

It is incredibly important to take a child-sensitive approach to social protection to ensure that initiatives do not inadvertently undermine child wellbeing, and promotes positive impacts for children. This could be through the provision of programmes directly targeting children, such as scholarships. It also includes programmes targeted at other family members, such as old age pensions.

Child poverty and vulnerability in Karnali Zone

Karnali is a comparatively disadvantaged region in Nepal (PDF), where poverty is twice as high compared to the rest of the country and more than half of all children under the age of 5 are stunted and anaemic. Seasonal migration is widespread, leading to family separation and encouraging child labour. 

Various social protection schemes in Karnali aim to tackle poverty and other areas of vulnerability. These include the Child Grant, which provides cash transfers to all children under 5, and the Karnali Employment Programme (KEP), a public works programme providing 100 days of paid work per year to poor households. These and other programmes directly and indirectly improve children’s lives with respect to poverty reduction, nutrition, health, education and childcare. 

The direct and indirect success of the Karnali Employment Programme

The KEP, despite only being targeted at household members of working age has:

  • Positive effect on child nutrition and modest positive impacts on poverty and education through increased household consumption
  • Child labour has been adverted by the introduction of KEP job cards, listing the names of the participant and two alternative household members. 
  • Addressed potentially negative impacts on childcare through the exemption of pregnant women and the establishment of childcare centres close to the project sites.

The KEP goes to highlight that social protection schemes will have an impact way beyond its target group. As such, keeping in mind, the vulnerable populations when shaping programmes and policies is imperative. 

What were the challenges?

That said, the overall impact of social protection on children’s lives is modest due to administrative, design and implementation issues. Examples include budget and capacity constraints, low transfer amounts, rigid registration processes and lack of accountability. 

With respect to KEP, impacts could be improved by ensuring that participants are indeed able to work the prescribed 100 days of work. This would positively influence household consumption and could prevent seasonal migration to India and subsequent family separation. 

There is no doubt that Nepal operates a comprehensive social protection system, and through the many programmes, they directly or indirectly impact on children’s lives. Tackling the administrative and programmatic challenges will only go to improve the outcomes and avoid adverse consequences for children.

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