Child Vulnerability and Social Protection in Kenya

Organization(s): UNICEF, WFP
Author: Bjorn Gelders
Regions: East Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa
Country: Kenya
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The definition of child vulnerability used in Kenya’s social protection sector was shaped in the early 2000s, when policymakers noted an increasing number of orphans as a consequence of the AIDS pandemic and developed the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC). Kenya’s Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC) was launched in 2004 with the objective of providing regular cash transfers to poor families living with children identified as OVCs to encourage fostering and retention of children and promote their human capital development. OVCs are defined in the programme as children aged 0-17 years old with at least one deceased parent, or a parent who is chronically ill, or whose main caregiver is chronically ill. In recent years, however, there have been growing concerns about the way childhood vulnerability is defined in Kenya and whether targeting transfers to OVCs may lead to the exclusion of children who are equally or even more vulnerable.

The paper assesses whether there are other markers that can be used to accurately identify vulnerable children and that can serve as a new definition of child vulnerability appropriate within the Kenyan context. Overall, household wealth is the only consistent and reliable predictor of childhood vulnerability across a range of across age-disaggregated outcomes. From a lifecycle perspective, young children under five living in income-poor households should be prioritised: evidence from the fields of neuroscience and developmental psychology show that poverty especially during early childhood can have negative and
irreversible effects that last through adulthood. Disability is a risk across the lifecycle and the limited evidence that is available on the situation of children with disabilities indicates that they experience higher rates of poverty and have less access to basic social services than their non-disabled peers.

Using microsimulations, the paper shows that reform – as part of a broader lifecycle approach to social protection – would be affordable, have a significant impact on reducing child poverty and vulnerability, and would drastically increase the coverage among children and households in need of social protection.

Social Protection and Human Rights