Authored by Cyrilla Heyi,
Reviewed by Merlene Opondo
The Need for Expansion of Social Protection
The Government of Kenya (GoK) recognized the need to expand social protection coverage and is gradually adopting a universal approach for children.
The journey started in 2017 during the Kenya Social Protection Sector Review II when there was a long-term proposal of exploring the possibility of establishing a broader child benefit for children aged under 5 years. This was integrated in the draft Kenya Social Protection National Investment Plan 2018 and subsequently the draft Kenya Social Protection Strategy.
In February 2019, the GoK participated in the Universal Child Benefit (UCB) Global conference in Geneva. In June of the same year, a technical working group chaired by the Social Protection Secretariat was formed. In November, a benchmarking study in South Africa and a feasibility study, which included stakeholder consultations, were done.
In May 2020, a policy note on UCB as COVID-19 response was developed which led to the decision to implement a pilot in Kisumu, Kajiado and Embu counties. As of March 2023, the stakeholders have validated a policy proposal on A Universal Child Benefit for Kenya that Leaves No Child Behind.
The Government of Kenya aims to progressively provide universal child benefit to all children. Universal Child Benefit is as an unconditional cash payment on a regular basis to the whole population of children through their primary caregivers. It must be unconditional, paid regularly, and to every child in the country regardless of their family’s income, employment, status or level of need.
Why Universal Child Benefit for Kenya
A Constitutional Right
The rationale for Universal Child Benefit in Kenya is based on the human right that all children have a right to social security. This is enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya and in international instruments of which Kenya is a signatory. Article 26 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) calls on State parties to recognize the right for every child to benefit from social security.
Article 27 further indicates that state parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. In addition, Article 43(1) of the Constitution of Kenya states that every person has the right to social security.
Nutritionally Inadequate Diets
A significant number of children in Kenya experience deficiencies in their diets. In 2021, over one quarter of children under five years suffered from chronic malnutrition – a growth failure resulting from a lack of adequate nutrients over a long period. Another 4.2% of the children were affected by acute malnutrition, which concerns a rapid deterioration in the nutritional status over a short period.
Lack of proper diet impacts on a child’s brain development with long term consequences for economic growth. It is estimated that in 2014, child under nutrition caused a loss of 6.9% of GDP (US$ 4.2 billion) in Kenya.
The Social Protection systems in Kenya currently exclude a vast majority of children. Poverty targeting excludes children including the poorest who would stand to benefit most from a universal child benefit. For example, the cash transfer to orphans and vulnerable children programme excludes children who need social protection. A universal approach will not have exclusion errors since it covers all children and it will be the most effective.
Most households in Kenya are living on low incomes. Widespread low incomes mean that many families are living precariously. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, shows that 36.1% of Kenyan households are classified as poor with the remaining 63.9% or 30.39 million being non-poor. This means that a third of the non-poor represents 10.02 million, with majority of them being the “floating middle class.”
In Kenya, 42% of children (8.7 million) were living in monetary poverty and an estimated 53% of children (11.1 million) living in multidimensional poverty (KNBS, 2020). In 2016, 69% of children in Kenya were living in poverty when measured by IPL of US$3.65PPP) per day (KES 187). 94% were living on less than US$6.85 (PPP) per day (KES 351). The universal child benefit as a crucial programme to alleviate the poverty impact among children.
Importance of Universal Child Benefit
The benefits of the Universal Child Benefit policy proposal include: cash transfers – which can have significant positive impacts on the nutritional health of children; Improved health and education outcomes to strengthen human capital, and; reducing inequality and stimulating growth. Moreover, a child benefit offered to all children would act as a stimulus to support the economy and promote bottom up growth. A universal (or near universal) child benefit approach is also likely to improve social cohesion and strengthen Kenya’s national social contract.
Finally, the proposed child benefit is likely to generate significant impacts on Kenya’s national poverty rate and contribute to higher returns on investments. Investing in children has high economic returns.