The ‘Children’s Right to Social Protection in the Middle East and North Africa – An analysis of legal frameworks from a child-rights perspective’ webinar took place on 2 October 2018. Based on the understanding that social protection is not only a matter of policies, but also one of rights, the webinar discussed the existing legal frameworks promoting children’s rights to social protection policies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In addition, it provided a more in-depth look at Iraq’s Law No. 11 of 2014 and the country’s conditional cash transfer programme.
The event was moderated by Sarah Hague (Chief of Social Policy, UNICEF Lebanon), who was joined by Anna Carolina Machado (Researcher, International Centre for Inclusive Growth, IPC-IG), Charlotte Bilo (Researcher, International Centre for Inclusive Growth, IPC-IG), and Jamal Abdulrasul Gha’eb (Director General, Information Technology Center of the Iraqi Social Welfare Authority). This webinar was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG).
1. Children’s Right to Social Protection in the Middle East and North Africa
Charlotte Bilo and Anna Carolina Machado opened the webinar introducing the findings of their recent study, ‘Children’s Right to Social Protection in the Middle East and North Africa – An analysis of legal frameworks from a child-rights perspective’, conducted by the IPC-IG in partnership with UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Office (MENARO). Social protection in the MENA region has traditionally relied on fuel, food and utility subsidies. This approach is considered by an increasing amount of research as regressive, meaning that they benefit the rich more than the poor.
Over recent years, several reforms have taken place with the intent of reducing or removing these subsidies. In some countries the revenue from these reforms are being used to partially finance targeted cash transfer programmes. Considering this new landscape of social provisions, as well as the political changes in MENA since 2011, the question arises: Can a shift towards a more rights-based approach to social protection be observed in the region?
A rights-based approach to social protection
A rights-based approach to social protection is founded on the idea that social protection is more than a policy choice, it’s a right, enshrined in several international human rights instruments, including the Convention of the Rights of Child (CRC). In this regard, embedding a social protection programme in a legal framework is essential, considering:
- Through a legal framework, an entitlement is created, to which citizens have access.
- Social protection programmes embedded in a comprehensive legal framework tend to be more sustainable, as they are less prone to political changes.
Embedding social protection programmes in legal frameworks doesn’t guarantee their implementation, particularly in contexts of conflicts. Even so, establishing legal frameworks is important, especially for children, as they are more at risk of malnutrition and disease and are dependent on others for their livelihood. With this in mind, the study benchmarked the legal frameworks of a selection of non-contributory social protection programmes against the following Human Rights criteria:
- Sets out precise eligibility requirements.
- Defines the roles and responsibilities stipulated for all those involved in the implementation.
- Articulates long-term financial resources, ensuring the adequacy and predictability of benefits.
- Foresees accessible complaints and appeal mechanisms.
- Sets out foundations for participation channels for citizens.
The right to social protection in MENA
There are several international and national treaties related to human rights in the MENA region, most of which establish the right to social protection (except for the cases demarcated in red):
The analysis also addressed the Constitutions of MENA countries, extracting articles that clearly stated the right to social protection or to an adequate standard of living (which is closely related to social protection as it usually foresees the provision of health, food and/or water), and whether these rights are explicitly extended to children. As one can see in the overview below, the latter is only present in a few countries.
In addition to the international treaties and Constitutions, national social protection strategies and development plans were also considered – although not being legally binding, they can help enhance institutional legitimacy and coordination among different governmental schemes. In the MENA region, only a few countries clearly stipulate the provision of social protection for children in their guiding social policy documents, namely Djibouti, Morocco and Jordan.
When it comes to other legal documents, such as National Childs Rights Acts, the study found that 14 out of the 20 countries are equipped with a Child Rights Act, of which seven clearly mention the right to social protection for children, yet often related only to orphans. The 2008 amendments to the Egyptian Child Statute stands out by envisaging the introduction of a cash transfer programme targeted at orphans and vulnerable children.
Social protection programme legislation in MENA
The region is home to more than 150 social protection programmes, of which 88 constitute an identifiable legal framework:
A separate analysis of 65 laws pertaining to non-contributory social protection programmes was also conducted, demonstrating an increase in programmes backed by a legal framework overtime, especially since the 1980’s:
The region shows clear regulatory gaps – several programmes that are particularly relevant for children are still not embedded in a legal framework, including Tayssir in Morocco, PNAFN and PPAS in Tunisia, E-NPTP in Lebanon and PNCTP in Palestine:
- While cash transfer and health protection programmes tend to be somewhat better embedded in legal frameworks, school feeding programmes and in-kind transfers are often missing a legal framework.
- Children on the move (including refugees and economic migrants) are usually not covered by national legal frameworks.
Additionally, 22 cash transfer and health protection programmes – at least one from each MENA country – were analysed in accordance with the human rights criteria outlined above. It was found that while most legal frameworks define eligibility criteria and roles and responsibilities, few stipulate the long-term financial requirements or establish strong complaints mechanisms. Some programmes stand out for a more comprehensive legal framework, such as Iraq’s Social Protection Network and Djibouti’s PNSF.
Drawing attention to the fact that social protection should not be defined as charity, but as a right, the presentation was concluded by highlighting the necessity of ensuring that social protection legislation is inclusive. Efforts should be made to create legally embedded appeal and complaints mechanisms as well as strengthening monitoring mechanisms.
2. Iraq’s Incentivised-Conditional Cash Transfers (ICCT)
Kicking off the second half of the webinar, Abdulrasul Gha’eb presented Iraq’s Law No. 11 of 2014, which defines social protection policies in the country. Until 2003, Iraq practiced Law No. 126 of 1980, based around a categorical standard for inclusion. After the war, having gathered new information on successful social protection experiences with social safety nets, and being guided by a partnership with the World Bank, the country distanced itself from a categorical targeting approach, adopting the national poverty line, as defined by the country’s Ministry of Planning, as an eligibility criteria for programmes.
With that in mind, six different stages of social protection development in Iraq can be identified:
Currently, 60% of beneficiaries included in social protection programmes in Iraq are children. From this premise, Law no.11 of 2014 includes the provision of conditional cash transfers to children in eligible households. Article 8, 2nd of Social Protection Law No. 11 of 2014 indicates that: “Conditional cash assistance shall be provided to individuals and families who are included in the provisions of this law to ensure their accessibility to social services in education, health, housing and other fields in coordination with relevant parties.”
In 2017, a conditional cash transfer was implemented in an area of Baghdad. The World Bank’s assisted in the definition of a sample population targeted by the programme, selecting a total of 6,734 families.
The pilot of the Incentivised-Conditional Cash Transfers (ICCT) programme, in addition to complying with the inclusion criteria, requires that cash transfer beneficiaries:
- Send their children who are under the age of 18 to school on a regular basis.
- Comply with health procedures that are identified by the Ministry of Health and on a regular basis (for example, immunisation for children and pregnant women, regular checkups).
In parallel to the pilot, a survey is being developed to evaluate the needs of beneficiaries, prior to scaling up the programme to the whole of Iraq.
Detailed development stages were undertaken by the programme before reaching its final phase:
- Preparation of an operational manual in close cooperation with the World Bank.
- Partnering with UNICEF & making joint field visits to the governorates (Najaf, Babil, Karbala).
- Establishing a web-based system for the ICCT with support from UNICEF.
- Piloting ICCT in Sadr: two districts for monitoring and evaluation with strong participation from beneficiaries.
- Preparations for scaling-up the work in other governorates and overcoming challenges and barriers.
In 2019, the ICCT’s pilot programme phase will be completed. Afterwards, an impact evaluation will be conducted and the decision for a scale-up will be taken. The main challenge the programme faces is the scarcity of financial and human resources, and the overall scarcity of logistical supplies.