Inclusion of Vulnerable Groups

As a human right that is intrinsic to all, the international community recognizes the need to design and implement social protection systems according to the principle of social inclusion, underlying the particular need to include persons in the informal economy (Recommendation No. 202, para 3e). Delivery systems should therefore be particularly attuned to the challenges and obstacles faced by vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and take special measures to protect these. Indeed, a human rights-based approach to social protection requires that States give special attention to those persons who belong to the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups in society. This entails guaranteeing non-discriminatory treatment as well as adopting proactive measures to enable those suffering from structural discrimination (for example, ethnic minorities or indigenous peoples) to enjoy their rights. Affirmative action and other proactive measures should aim at diminishing or eliminating conditions that give rise to or perpetuate discrimination, and at countering stigmas and prejudices. The CESCR’s General Comment 20 recommends the use of a range of laws, policies and programmes, including special measures to tackle discrimination. The measures that States adopt should pay attention to the specific human rights problems that emerge with relation to, for example, gender, age, disability, migration and displacement. Of particular relevance in this context are the obligations imposed by the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families.

CEDAW (Articles 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16) requires States parties not only to ensure that women enjoy their right to social security on an equal basis to men, but also to undertake appropriate special measures so as to provide women with equal opportunities in public life, education, employment, health care, economic and social life, and marriage and family relations. In order to redress disadvantages associated with gender, both contributory and non-contributory social protection programmes should be made gender-sensitive. This means contributory programmes taking into account the factors that prevent women from making equal contributions, such as intermittent participation in the workforce on account of care responsibilities and unequal wage outcomes. Meanwhile, the CESCR’s General Comment 19 points out that non-contributory programmes should consider that women are more likely to live in poverty than men and often have sole responsibility for the care of children. In any case, States have obligations to take into account the whole range of women’s rights. CEDAW points out that states must take appropriate measures to modify the social patterns that accord differential status to men and women (Article 5) and ensure the equality of women in rural areas (Article 14) as well. (See gender perspective)

From a human rights perspective, social protection programmes should also be child-sensitive in their design, implementation and evaluation. The CRC (the Preamble, Articles 2 and 23 in particular) emphasizes that the best interests of children should be respected at all times, and their special needs should be accommodated. A child-sensitive social protection programme is one which ensures the rights of the child, and takes into account all the factors that might place children in a vulnerable position (see also the joint publication Advancing Child-Sensitive Social Protection). Programmes are required to factor in age- and gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities at each stage of the life course, especially considering the needs of families with children. Special provisions should be made for children without parental care and those who are marginalized within their families due to gender, disability, ethnicity, HIV/AIDS status or other markers of identity. To achieve these ends, it is necessary that intra-household dynamics be carefully considered, including the balance of power between men and women. A child-sensitive programme must also include the voices and opinions of children and youth, and their caregivers in design and implementation processes.

Persons with disabilities face various impediments to the enjoyment of their human rights, and thus social protection programmes must employ the utmost sensitivity with regard to their needs. Programmes must ensure their effective coverage and access to social protection benefits, support services as well as to information related to assistive technology and other facilities. This requirement is laid down in the CRPD (Article 4). Article 3 states that social protection programmes must incorporate the chief principles of the CRPD:

  • respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  • non-discrimination;
  • full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  • equality of opportunity;
  • accessibility; and
  • equality between men and women.

The CRPD also stresses that the special needs of women and children with disabilities must be duly taken into account (Articles 3, 6 and 7).

Various other characteristics, such as ethnicity, health status, sexual orientation or geographical location can also impede the equal enjoyment by some people of their economic, social and cultural rights, including their right to social security. Each of these characteristics must be taken into account when a social protection programme is designed and implemented. Inclusion of those who are disadvantaged and marginalized is the first step but it is not enough. The provision of quality social services needed by different groups is equally important. For example, building maternal health clinics in rural areas does not necessarily meet the state’s obligations if the services provided in those clinics are worse than in clinics elsewhere in the country or if they do not meet standards set in similar contexts.

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Expert Commentaries

Investment, Commitment and Innovation: Fast-Tracking Social Protection to End AIDS

The Fast-Track approach, a UNAIDS strategy for ending AIDS by 2030, has the potential to change the lives of millions of people around the world. In order to reach the goal of ending AIDS by 2030, we have a fragile window of opportunity of just five years to reach Fast-Track targets with the aim of […]

Key Issues

Rural workers and rural populations

Most people living in rural areas in the Global South do not have access to social protection. People in rural areas are disproportionately exposed to income insecurity, as employment is typically casual, seasonal and low paid. With few resources, low income, and high risk exposure, rural populations are particularly vulnerable to severe financial hardship. Approximately […]

Ethnic and racial minorities

  Generally, under human rights instruments, rights are granted to ‘everyone’ without discrimination of any kind. Thus, minorities (national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities) should enjoy all rights including the right to social security on the same footing as the majority of the population. The protection of the rights of minorities is provided for under article 27 […]

Legal Instruments

Old Age Pension Act (Chapter 36:03)

This Act makes provisions for the payment old age pensions.  

Decreto 27-2003. Ley de Protección Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia

Esta ley establece las protecciones para los niños y niñas en temas como apoyo en caso de carencia material (art. 21); condiciones para la lactancia materna (art. 26); protección para los niño(s) con discapacidad (art. 47).  

Decreto 839 – Ley de Protección Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia

Este Decreto establece la protección de la niñez y adolescencia. Es el deber del Estado, como a los padres y madres, adoptar todas las medidas necesarias para proteger a la familia (art. 7). En principio de corresponsabilidad, la garantía de los derechos de las niñas, niños y adolescentes corresponde a la familia, al Estado y […]

Ley 7.600

La Ley tiene como objetivos, servir como instrumento a las personas con discapacidad para que alcancen su máximo desarrollo, su plena participación social, así como el ejercicio de los derechos y deberes establecidos en nuestro sistema jurídico; garantizar la igualdad de oportunidades para la población en todo ámbito; eliminar cualquier tipo de discriminación hacia estas […]

Ley 20.535

Extiende el permiso a los padres contemplado en el artículo 199 bis, la persona que tenga a su cuidado personal, o sea cuidador de un menor con discapacidad debidamente inscrito en el Registro Nacional de la Discapacidad, o menor de 6 años, con el diagnóstico del médico tratante. También se extiende el permiso en caso […]

Ley 20.763

Esta ley establece incrementos a las asignaciones familiares y maternales dentro de las especificaciones de focalización a los segmentos de la población más pobre.

Child Care Board Act

Chapter 381 of the Child Care Board Act of Barbados makes better provision for the care and protection of children.

Ley 22.431 De Protección Integral para los discapacitados.

Crea un sistema de protección integral de las personas discapacitadas, tendiente a asegurar a éstas su atención médica, su educación y su seguridad social, así como a concederles las franquicias y estímulos que permitan, en lo posible neutralizar la desventaja, que la discapacidad les provoca y les den oportunidad, mediante su esfuerzo, de desempeñar en […]

Ley 25.273 de Creación de un sistema de inasistencias justificadas por razones de gravidez

Crea un régimen especial de inasistencias justificadas por razones de gravidez para alumnas que cursen los ciclos de enseñanza general básica, polimodal y superior no universitaria en establecimientos de jurisdicción nacional, provincial o municipal.

Ley 25.808 Modificación del articulo 1º de la ley 25.584

Prohibe en establecimientos de educación pública acciones que impidan el inicio o continuidad del ciclo escolar a alumnas embarazadas o madres en período de lactancia.

Legal Cases

Child Labour in Mauritania

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child considered a communication concerning child slavery and held Mauritania accountable for multiple violations of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The Committee is an African Union body set up to protect children’s rights across the region. Said […]

Unimpeded Access to Accountability Mechanisms for Workers in the United Kingdom

Summary:  Prior to the enactment of the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013 (Fees Order) in the UK, a claimant could pursue and appeal employment proceedings without paying any fee. Fees were introduced under the Fees Order, with the amount varying depending on factors including the claim classification and complexity. Type […]


Project “Towards Inclusive Social Protection Systems To Advance The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities” (2019-20)

Building on the process facilitated by ILO and International Disability Alliance (IDA) that led to the adoption of a joint statement on inclusive social protectionm and the current momentum on universal social protection, the UNPRPD funded project, implemented jointly by ILO and UNICEF in close cooperation with IDA seeks the collaborative development of capacity across […]

ILO Resource Package on “Extending Social Security to Workers in the Informal Economy”

The ILO policy resource package “Extending social security to workers in the informal economy: Lessons from international experience” serves as a reference for policy makers, workers’ and employers’ organizations and other stakeholders engaged in the development of social protection strategies, or the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of systems and schemes. This practical tool can help in […]

Joint statement: Towards inclusive social protection systems supporting the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities

This joint statement reflects our shared commitment to inclusive social protection systems for persons with disabilities. The statement emerged from meetings and discussions between international partners working on the issues of disability and social protection. These meetings also contributed to the first report of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons […]

Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development: General Survey concerning the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The ILO’s General Survey 2019 , compiled by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The Survey (published under the title Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development) focuses on the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for basic income security and essential healthcare […]

Realizing Children’s Right to Social Protection in the Middle East and North Africa: a compendium of UNICEF’s contributions

This Compendium documents the broad range of UNICEF’s social protection interventions in MENA from 2014-2017. The Compendium illustrates how UNICEF has worked hand in hand with partner governments in both humanitarian and development settings and succeeded in reaching the most vulnerable children with social protection mechanisms. Thetimeframe selected represents UNICEF’s previous global Strategic Plan, which included social inclusion and social protection as […]

Promoting Inclusion through Social Protection: Report on the World Social Situation 2018

Universal social protection is a potent development policy tool that can alleviate poverty, inequality and social exclusion. In fact, few countries have been able to reduce poverty and improve living conditions on a broad scale without comprehensive social protection systems in place. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underscores the importance of social protection for […]

Developing an Inclusive and Creative Economy: The state of social enterprise in Indonesia

Interest in social enterprises in Indonesia is growing alongside increased emphasis on entrepreneurship in general. This is evident in the growing number of events, research, and government activities focused on social enterprise. The concept of social enterprise was formally acknowledged for the first time by the Government of Indonesia in 2015, when the People’s Representative […]

The Global Rise of Social Cash Transfers

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaimed the equality of all human beings in dignity and rights. The right to social security, however, has been taken more seriously only since the 2000s, through calls for ‘Social Security for All’ and ‘Leaving no-one behind’. The book investigates a major response, social cash transfers to the […]

Social Protection, Food Security and Nutrition in Six African Countries

Evaluations of social protection interventions across Africa often register significant success in improving household food security indicators, but little or no improvement in individual nutritional outcomes. One reason is under-coverage of poor people; another is the low value of social transfers. This paper reviews experiences with social protection in six African countries – Ethiopia, Malawi, […]

The Role of Cash Transfers in Social Protection, Humanitarian Response and Shock- Responsive Social Protection

Cash transfers have expanded rapidly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) around the world in the past decade. The contexts in which they are implemented have also diversified; while cash transfers were mostly adopted initially as central elements of social protection systems, they have become increasingly popular as a core component of humanitarian response. They […]

Social Protection and Human Rights