Investment in Social Protection now will prevent drain of resources in the future

Next week, when the world leaders converge in New York for the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, the social upheaval in the Middle East and the world over will be on top of their agenda.

Alongside this, the High Level Political Forum under the auspices of the General Assembly will meet on September 24 to look beyond the Millennium Development goals, at the post-2015 agenda.  The outcome of the deliberations at this forum could prove to be a cornerstone in the debate to decide upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The foundation for the discussions has already been extremely well articulated by the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda appointed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. The final report of this High Level Panel, co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the British Prime Minister David Cameron, has set the tone of discourse saying that “post-2015 agenda is a universal agenda. It needs to be driven by five big transformative shifts.”

The most pertinent point made by the panel is “leave no one behind.” This should be the basis for deciding the forthcoming SDGs. Development will not be achieved if it remains exclusive and afforded to a particular section of the society. As the panel points out in the report: “The 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent.” This demonstrates the social and economic imbalance in the world that needs to be rectified through the new development goals.

Development is an inclusive, holistic process and it can be sustainable only if all sections of the society participate in achieving it. Those left behind so far have to be brought into the process of development, and that is possible only if their inclusion and empowerment becomes a priority in the post-2015 agenda. The emphasis should be on including those who have remained excluded, marginalized, and unheard.

Investing in social protection

The High Level Panel has suggested provision of “social protection to help people build resilience to life’s uncertainties.”

In fact, development is rather an arduous challenge without adequate social protection. Most developed countries provide for a high level of social protection and invest heavily in maintaining it, as it goes a long way in building a strong and productive society that becomes the fulcrum of development and prosperity of any nation.  In spite of the investment in social protection even the developed countries have not been able to eliminate social imbalance and exclusion.

As one of the largest network of 173 social protection organizations that work with children and young people in 141 countries, Child Helpline International has collected data on more than 126 million contacts made with its member child helplines. These contacts were made by children and young people with child helplines seeking advice, care and protection from abuse, violence, neglect, exploitation, social discrimination and psychosocial and mental health issues. These figures, although representing a fraction of the global youth population, underline the challenges young people face in the society around the world.

In the absence of adequate social protection it is likely that many young people may never be able to achieve their full potential and contribute to the society and the nation they belong to. To ensure holistic and sustainable development, it is therefore imperative to invest in policies, programs and schemes for social protection and empowerment of young people.

Young people, girls and women

In the 21st century, we are still struggling with issues of social inequality and justice, which needs to be addressed in the SDGs. The High Level Panel report has mentioned several cross cutting issues that need to be considered while deciding on the SDGs. Concerns of young people, girls and women have been mentioned as one of these issues besides peace, social inequality, climate change, urban centers or cities.

In spite of technological advancement that has shrunk the world and facilitated people to people contact through social media bringing young people from around the world closer to each other, it has done little to end discrimination, marginalization, poverty and violence they face in daily life.

Of course, abuse and violence is one of the most reasons for which young people seek support from child helplines. Child Helpline International’s 10 year data shows that in the recent years there has also been an increase in the number of contacts by young people with child helplines on issues of discrimination and marginalization.

UNICEF’s recently launched campaign, End Violence against children, and the enormous efforts made by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Ms Marta Santos Pais, are examples of the global commitment of governments, civil society and private sector to respond to and eliminate the violence faced by young people.

Our experience shows that most contacts with child helplines are made by young people in the age group of 13 to 17 and also those between 18 and 35 (see Figure 1). There are more girls than boys contacting child helplines for support, especially in the age group of 13 to 15.

The child helpline data demonstrates the vulnerability of girls and young women, as has also been mentioned by the panel.  Efforts to eliminate violence against girls and women, and their social and economic empowerment should be woven into social protection programs.

Figure 1: Gender and age disaggregated data of contacts with child helplines

Figure 1: Gender and age disaggregated data of contacts with child helplines

All these policies, schemes and programs for social protection require investment by governments. Many developing countries do not have the wherewithal to provide for huge budgetary provisions to implement a robust social protection agenda, as it does not materialize into immediate economic gains like investing in an infrastructure or industrial project. Nevertheless, developing social infrastructure is crucial for sustainable growth.

Developed countries will have to continue their support to developing nations to invest in social protection. The current economic slowdown has become a challenge for the developed nations to maintain the quantum of overseas development aid they have been providing until now. However, in spite of this many countries have continued with their international development programs focusing on some of the issues that have been highlighted in the report of the High Level Panel.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry has been far-sighted in its approach to social protection and empowerment. It is supporting several such programs through civil society actors. Child Helpline International is part of two such programs – the Girl Power Alliance for the empowerment of girls and women in 10 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the [email protected] being implemented in five fragile countries in Africa and Latin America for empowerment of young people affected by conflicts.

Such programs are required in every nation of the world as protection and empowerment of young people is key to sustainable development.

Civil Society and Private sector

While governments are responsible for providing social protection and ensuring development in their countries, the civil society and private sector have made invaluable contributions to social empowerment. They play a crucial role in supporting such initiatives with human capital and financial support.

Civil society organizations give a voice to the marginalized and vulnerable sections of the society and also act as monitors and barometers of social development, whereas the private sector has initiatives that support such interventions and programs. High net worth individuals have pitched in with sharing of their wealth and there are several massive health and social empowerment programs the world over supported and funded by them.

Private sector has been consistently contributing towards making the voices of young people heard. There are several private telecom operators that have made it possible for children and young people to call child helplines free-of-cost, designating child helpline telephone numbers as toll-free and absorbing the costs of air time.  The collection and publication of the 10-year data of child helplines for evidence-based policy change has also been generously supported by the private sector.

These investments in social protection, especially protection of children, young people, girls and women are essential to sustain development in the long run. If we do not invest in our young people now, the cost of dealing with the consequences of lack of social investment will be enormous.