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Social Protection and Childhood Violence: Expert Roundtable

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Social Protection and Childhood Violence: Expert Roundtable

Social Protection and Childhood Violence : Expert roundtable

Can social protection programmes reduce violence experienced by children? What are the pathways, and what rigorous evidence exists? These and other questions were debated by 25 experts during the two-day round table Social Protection and Childhood Violence, organized in Florence by UNICEF Innocenti and Know Violence in Childhood, a global initiative to prevent violence in childhood at all levels of society.

Researchers at UNICEF Innocenti recently took up the challenge to better understand links between social protection and childhood violence. The main argument is that poverty contributes to many forms of violence, and violence in turn blocks the road out of poverty: the so called “locust effect” described by Gary Haugen in his recent book and recalled by Amber Peterman of the UNICEF Innocenti team in her overview presentation. In fact, a large body of research shows that poverty in various forms is an important driver of childhood violence—indicating good potential for social protection to decrease violence at the margin.  

Despite this potential, the roundtable highlighted that very little rigorous evidence on the ability of social protection to reduce childhood violence exists - a research gap largely due to a lack of measurement and examination in impact evaluations. These gaps led UNICEF Innocenti researchers to stress the need for investing in this area of research.

“Household- and community-level poverty and economic inequality are among the risk factors for child protection violations” said Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti in her opening remarks, “However, to date little attention has been paid to these linkages in research, and hence there exist few studies which empirically or theoretically document the pathways through which social protection affects childhood physical, emotional and sexual violence”.

On the first day, a series of case studies were presented to test these assumptions: Audrey Pettifor, of the University of North Carolina on the protective role of cash transfers conditional on schooling and outcomes of HIV and intimate partner violence among adolescent girls in South Africa; Josh Chaffin of the Women’s Refugee Commission on household economic strengthening interventions and the outcomes for child well-being; Paola Pereznieto of the Overseas Development Institute on Palestinian cash transfer programme and potential to impact childhood violence; Kathryn Maguire-Jack on social safety nets in US and child maltreatment, in addition to the UNICEF Innocenti researchers M. Catherine Maternowska on Childhood violence and poverty-related drivers; and Tia Palermo on the impact of unconditional cash transfers on sexual violence and exploitation in sub-Saharan Africa.

On the second day, the discussion moved to the analysis of the regional constraints that affect the implementation and outcomes of social protection typologies in different countries. In addition, integration or harmonization of social and child protection services with social protection (so-called ‘cash plus’ models) were presented by Bernadette Madrid of the University of Philippines, Mayke Huijbregt of UNICEF Mozambique and Lorraine Sherr of University College London on South Africa and Malawi.

A "cash plus" approach may be important to consider as cash alone is not always sufficient to reduce the broad, interrelated social and economic vulnerabilities associated with childhood violence.  A "plus" component as a layering of services, interventions or messaging embedded in social protection programmes, may have the potential to make a significant difference for individual children in facilitating safe transitions to adulthood and in reducing violence and exploitation experienced by adolescents.

Social protection and child protection are no longer two worlds apart, but there is still a long way to go, acknowledging that childhood violence is complex and poverty is just one aspect of the determinants of violence affecting children. How can other aspects be tackled by social protection programmes, beyond household economic strengthening and addressing poverty? Much more research is needed to answer that question.

(20 May 2016)