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Rights and social protection for children: addressing inequality

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:00


Hon. Irene Ovonji-Odida, FIDA

Rachel Sabates Wheeler, IDS

Fauzia Shariff, DFID

Angela Penrose, Grow Up Free From Poverty Coalition

The third meeting in the series was held on Wednesday 22 June 2005. The meeting was chaired by Angela Penrose. The three speakers were Rachel Sabates-Wheeler, Fauzia Shariff and Irene Ovonji-Odida.

1. Rachel Sabates-Wheeler argued that although social protection currently enjoyed policy attention, donors employed definitions that stressed the economic aspects above the social, and posited that the social needed to be put back into 'social protection'.

2. She critiqued donor preoccupation with cash transfers and 'shocks' (such as droughts), and argued that these foci explained donor emphasis on instruments to manage negative economic impacts of shocks rather than address broader issue of social vulnerability. Cash transfers and food aid ignored power relations and were only band aids.

3. Sabates-Wheeler defined social protection as initiatives that provided income or consumption transfers to the poor, protected the vulnerable against livelihood risks, and enhanced the social status and rights of the excluded and marginalised. This demanded a rights-based approach.

4. She argued that social protection had multiple functions, and included protection, prevention, promotion and transformation. She warned that protective measures, particularly those involving targeting, sometimes reinforced marginalisation. Some interventions straddled more than one category: micro insurance was a preventative measure but had transformative elements. Specific transformation instruments included legislation on economic, social and cultural rights, anti-corruption measures, anti-discrimination campaigns, minimum wage legislation and, workers' rights.

5. Sabates-Wheeler concluded on the importance of transformative social protection. It was affordable without long-term donor commitment, was a long-term intervention as it addressed underlying causes of poverty, tackled social exclusion as well as economic vulnerability, and promoted empowerment and rights.

6. Fauzia Shariff outlined the three challenges for DFID in implementing a rights approach to social transfers. The first, ensuring the participation of poorest and enforceability was time consuming, difficult to address representation constraints, had raised expectations, and was difficult assess policy impacts on the most marginalised groups. Additionally the poorest and most excluded rarely had an input into agenda setting, and enforceability was limited by low literacy, language barriers and geographical location.

7. She argued that social transfers targeted those who benefited least from development and addressed the second challenge, ensuring socially inclusive societies, but argued for universal transfers. Community based targeting was effective and had provided a mechanism for the poorest to have a say, but potentially reinforced existing community level distributions of wealth and power.

8. The third challenge, DFID's country led approach, led DFID to support government defined agendas. While social transfers potentially encouraged beneficiaries to engage with the state and its policies, the creation of entitlements and accompanying obligations of the state were politically challenging as potentially shifted power balances.

9. Irene Ovonji-Odida argued the importance of outcome and process to a rights-based approach to social protection. She outlined Uganda's human rights framework (national laws plus the Ugandan constitution's chapter on human rights) and stressed the role of globalisation as an external limit on policy choice and effectiveness.

10. Ovonji-Odida described the case of Justine, an orphan in the legal care of a paternal uncle. The uncle had not used funds from her parents estate to ensure the girl-children were educated. This reflected his own socio-cultural bias, plus a broken family network, which meant other family members did not intervene. Lack of legal literacy led to the involvement of the NGO FIDA (legal aid) which briefed the children and their uncle on their legal positions and responsibilities. Contributing issues in this case were not legal alone but reflect broader household poverty.

11. Operational challenges faced NGOs: there was high demand for services; clients arrived with high expectations; financial limitations; and distance meant that national level coverage was patchy. This was compounded by weak referral institutions and laws which made it difficult for people to access legal recourse.

12. Ovonji-Odida asserted that structural factors affected poverty and vulnerability and called for interventions to be holistic so that they led to change in individual's ability to make real choices.

13. The discussion centred on DFID's approach to social protection. It was clarified that while DFID's Reaching the Poorest policy team focused on cash transfers, other policy teams were engaged in broader rights and exclusions and addressed more fully the transformative social protection agenda. This remained an ongoing debate within DFID.

14. Effective transformative social policy work needed to address inequality. This meant both between children and other groups/adults, as well as within different groups of children. The role of the education curriculum was discussed. The classroom was important to passing on messages to empower vulnerable groups, and encouraged individuals to examine their lives and make choices.


Social protection is primarily viewed as an economic investment, however, taking a rights based approach necessitates a focus on broader issues of social justice. While legislation has a role, a rights based approach to social protection empowers poor people to claim their rights from their governments who are the duty bearers, accountable under international and domestic law. This session explored how social protection interventions can ensure the realisation of human rights for the poorest people and the specific attention to children's rights required in order to guarantee their enjoyment of equal rights.