Africa needs to do more to translate its commitments to social protection into practical programmes that reach marginalised and impoverished children, the African Union (AU) expert meeting said on Wednesday.
Participants at the conclusion of the AU Expert Consultation Meeting on Children and Social Protection that was held this week said that social protection is widely considered as a critical investment for children.
In a joint statement, the Department of Social Development, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the AU said social protection is an investment that helps families and children to overcome financial and social barriers.
While AU member states have made political commitments to social protection, challenges still remain.
"AU member states have all made political commitments to social protection. A decade later, social protection schemes are expanding across the continent: almost every country in Eastern and Southern Africa has developed a social protection policy, and an increasing number of countries in West, Central and North Africa are also embarking on similar exercises. Despite this, challenges are immense.
"Millions of African children continue to live in poverty and are yet to benefit from the continent's economic growth," said the parties.
During the three-day consultation, held under the theme: Children and Social Protection Systems: Building the African Agenda, up to 40 AU member states representatives and social protection experts discussed the current state of social protection on the African continent.
They looked at existing evidence on impacts and key lessons learned, and presented recommendations to help countries develop and strengthen their social protection systems.
Ensuring a minimum social protection package in every country and developing social budgets that reflect on a country's growth and expenditure were some of the recommendations made by the meeting.
The institutionalising of social protection measures in national policy, legislation and development plans and committing a share of GDP to social protection were the other recommendations made.
"There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that social protection can and does work in Africa. The child support grant of South Africa is just one such evidence. First introduced in 1998, the grant has become the country's largest social assistance programme, reaching over 11 million vulnerable children with US$28 per child per month," noted the meeting.
The grant has not only made positive impact on poverty reduction, but helped break cycles of poverty and even out the gaps of inequity.
Against the positive evidence, however, social protection systems in many countries are still challenged by fragmentation, low coverage, and limited linkages with other services.
The participants also called for increased involvement by the African Union and development partners in the social protection arena, asking them to put social protection for children high on their development agenda.
This consultation meeting held in Cape Town, was a precursor to the fourth AU Conference of Ministers of Social Development, which will be held from 26-30 May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.