Assessing the Responsiveness Of Social Safety Nets Towards Reducing Vulnerability Among Child-Headed Households
Dear Friends & Colleagues
Children’s rights assert that all children must be protected from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation but this is not always the reality for many children globally. As poverty, armed conflict and HIV rates continue to soar, the number of orphans and displaced children is equally increasing. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are about 52 million orphans in Africa; a figure accounting for children who have lost either one or both parents to any cause of death and is under the age of 18.
In many African countries, poverty, AIDS and armed conflict result in neglect of children and are major factors contributing to an overburden on and the undermining of traditional social support systems. Given these factors, the extended family is increasingly unable to cope with assimilating new members such as orphaned children, leading to destitution. Although child-care facilities have been helpful in absorbing some of these children, the system has been overwhelmed and in some cases can no longer cater for children over the age of 18, as such they get thrown out. This has resulted in a continued rise in the prevalence rate of child-headed households. The Zambia Statistics Agency identified a total of 5,986 child-headed households in the 2010 Census. The demographical data shows that 3,803 child-headed households are in rural areas while 2,183 are in urban areas. This situation has been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has left many children destitute, orphaned and living on the street. Similarly, rising levels of poverty and a break-down in traditional family structures has also contributed to child-headed households.
Child-headed households refer to households managed by children aged 17 years or younger. It is argued that this responsibility placed on children negates their basic rights such as; the right to family care, the right to a childhood, the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, the right to education and the right to protection against all forms of abuse and negligent treatment, among others. They are thought to be one of the most vulnerable groups in society and at risk of many social and economic challenges that negatively impact them due to their age and inability to provide or access basic social amenities. This broadly perpetuates a vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty. Also, they tend to be most susceptible to hunger and disease, among many other social ills. These vulnerabilities are further heightened among children with disabilities. Moreover, poverty and a lack of access to income are key drivers of early engagement in sexual deviance, transactional sex and child marriages. Often, children have no means to meet their basic needs; a situation that forces them into these relationships in order to obtain food and other goods. In Zambia, these children often resort to begging on the streets for survival, thus increasing their risk to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Evidence indicates that household and community level poverty are among the risk factors for child protection violations. Research further suggests that certain child protection issues, including sexual exploitation, unnecessary family separation, child labour and child marriage have a more direct link to poverty. Social Safety Nets (SSNs) are believed to be a means to break this cycle of poverty by implementing programmes that offer equitable access to basic social amenities that impact the quality of life for all. SSNs refer to specific target programmes that aim to mitigate a particular social problem such as inequality, poverty and vulnerability. These are often non-conditional programmes, designed to provide regular and predictable support to poor and vulnerable populations, and are key components of larger social protection systems. They have equally emerged as a primary policy tool to address poverty and vulnerability. Similarly, social protection refers to policies and practices that protect and promote the livelihoods and welfare of people suffering from critical levels of poverty and deprivation and/or are vulnerable to risks and shocks. It supports development through building human capital, thus breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and promoting the reduction of both social and economic inequalities.
A clear example of a Social Safety Net mechanism is the social cash transfer programme. Strong evidence indicates that cash transfers have resulted in considerable reductions in poverty globally.6 Further, evidence documented around the world suggests that SSNs play an important role in improving child well-being, regardless of whether these programmes are explicitly child-focused. For instance, cash transfers are commonly linked to well-being outcomes for children such as improved nutrition, management of illness, improved school enrolment and mental health among beneficiary households. However, in order for social protection programming to be responsive to child-headed households there is need for an even balance between social grants such as social cash transfers as well as care through social welfare services that provide the care and protection of vulnerable children. This balance is argued to be the foundation of an effective social protection system needed to sustainably lift children out of poverty and enhance their inclusion and resilience. It is important to note that poverty is a complex aspect and consists of various overlapping deprivations that include lack of income but may also include; limited access to information, housing, sanitation, health care, education, as well as sexual, physical or substance abuse.
All these aspects intersect to re-enforce one-another, creating a complex matrix of poverty and vulnerability. It is therefore imperative that the Government strives to provide a range of adequate cash and care interventions to address the challenges faced by such households.
Mrs. Bernadette Deka Zulu – Executive Director