In an effort to forge greater commitment for child sensitive social protection policies, 40 parliamentarians from ten countries in Eastern and Southern Africa are gathering for a three day meeting in Windhoek, Namibia. Hosted by the Parliament of Namibia in partnership with Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNICEF, the forum aims to build consensus amongst parliamentarians for efforts to scale up safety nets for the most vulnerable, especially children affected by HIV and AIDS. The meeting will stress the crucial role parliamentarians can play in scaling up social protection schemes, from shaping laws and approving budgets to holding governments accountable to their commitments and obligations.
In a region where more than half the population survives on less than $1.25 per day, an estimated 9.7 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and millions more have experienced deepening poverty, lost education, and discrimination due to the impact of the HIV pandemic. Social protection schemes, however, have been enacted in several countries and are already having an impact by keeping children in school as well as improving their nutritional status and their protection from abuse.
“The proof is clear -child sensitive social protection schemes such as cash transfers, removal of user fees for health and education for the poorest, along with pro-poor policies, laws, and regulations, make a real difference in the lives of children who have to cope with the worst impact of extreme poverty.” said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “They can also foster social stability, particularly in countries with high levels of disparity and exclusion,”
Some of the middle income countries in Southern Africa, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are characterized by the most severe income inequalities in the world, as measured by the Gini coefficient.
In recent years, many African Governments have signed on to the value of using social protection schemes to tackle extreme poverty and vulnerability. The Livingstone Accord, signed by 13 governments in 2006 under the auspices of the African Union, agreed that social protection strategies be integrated into national development plans and budgets. This was followed by the Social Policy Framework for Africa, developed in Windhoek in 2008 which signaled increased support by the African Union. The Southern African Development Community also recently finalized its strategic framework for orphans and vulnerable children and youth, which provides a further roadmap for providing basic services to these often, excluded groups.
“Parliamentarians play a decisive role in garnering the necessary political support within countries to prioritize and commit to policies to target marginalized children and those suffering the brunt of the impact of HIV and AIDS,” said IPU President Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is also Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia. “This meeting provides a valuable opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and build on the evidence that demonstrates how social protection can help mitigate the worst consequences of HIV and AIDs.”
Members of parliament will be able to share lessons learned, discuss the latest evidence from the region and gain a deeper understanding of the tools at their disposal to respond to the needs of vulnerable children and their families.
“We know from our experiences here in Namibia that for national social protection schemes to work they need to be owned and led not only by the Government but by Parliament as well. They need to be seen as an investment from the national treasury that contributes to a fairer, more just and caring society. It is parliamentarians who can create the dialogue in their constituencies to create the political will for these types of policies and it is parliamentarians who can ensure the national budget reflects these priorities” said .Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab “This forum is an important step in building alliances across borders to create the demand within countries for these types of policies.”
Social Protection schemes have been identified as ways to care for those affected by HIV and AIDS and can also play a critical role in preventing new infections. Successful schemes in the region include Namibia, where universal pensions for children and the elderly have provided a safety net; South African Universal Child Grant, the largest cash transfer scheme on the continent; the Malawi cash transfer scheme, which targets the poorest ten percent of labor constrained families and which the Government has recently agreed to take to scale; and the Kenyan Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable children that reaches 90,000 households.