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Putting children first: Universal benefits for children with disabilities in Kenya

23/11/2023

In this final part on the 3-part blog series, Dennis Mugambi Njue explains why supporting children with disabilities by providing a monthly child disability benefit would be an easy win for the government, the economy, and Kenya’s future.

Children with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and are all too often overlooked. In Kenya, the Government has a precedent of supporting persons with disabilities via international agreements and national legislation, with some representation for children. The government ratified The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008 and nationally, the Kenya Persons with Disabilities Act 2003, The Kenya Children Act 2001, and the Constitution of Kenya 2010 support the rights of children and people with disabilities.

Kenya has taken impressive steps to build its social security system to support various lifecycle groups. The Government of Kenya currently provides monthly cash benefits to poor households in some arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) counties in North-Eastern Kenya that are vulnerable to drought (the Hunger Safety Net Programme), poor households with orphans and vulnerable children (the Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children) and poor households with adults with severe disabilities (Cash Transfer for Persons with Severe Disabilities). However, these household-level benefits are poverty-targeted with low levels of coverage and high exclusion errors (which are common to programmes with a poverty-targeted design globally) meaning that, in a context of widespread low incomes and vulnerability in Kenya, many people go without much-needed social security support.

In 2017, the Government of Kenya moved towards a more inclusive and rights-based lifecycle approach to social security by introducing a monthly universal social pension to all older people aged 70+ years. The positive impacts of the social pension on the autonomy and wellbeing of older persons in Kenya have been well-documented.

In April this year, President Ruto approved an additional KES 28 billion to finance the expansion of cash transfer programmes, signalling the Government’s continued commitment to expanding and strengthening social security coverage and progressively building an effective social protection floor. However, as Kenya’s social security system expands and extends coverage to Kenyans to build their resilience to the risks and vulnerabilities they face across the lifecycle, a key gap remains for Kenya’s children. According to the 2017 Social Protection Sector Review, only around 10 per cent of children in Kenya were members of households that received a social security benefit.

Kenya made significant advancements in providing child benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government piloted a Universal Child Benefit programme, which was implemented in three counties over a 12-month period. The pilot provided bi-monthly cash transfers of KES 1,600, paid to a female caregiver or an alternative caregiver in the same household, for roughly 8,300 children. However, this pilot programme was temporary (for a fixed period of 12 months) and has now ended. The ambition is that the pilot will lead to a full national UCB programme to reach all children under 36 months, even if introduced gradually over time.

Providing a monthly child benefit as the right of all children in Kenya would be transformative, providing a much-needed boost to child wellbeing and development in Kenya, with knock-on impacts for broader economic development. Introducing a Universal Child Benefit (UCB) in Kenya would be a powerful tool to combat widespread low incomes and high levels of malnutrition and stunting among children. According to UNICEF, 26% of Kenyan children under five are stunted, indicating chronic malnutrition that hinders their growth and cognitive development (UNICEF, 2023). UCB would directly address this issue by providing families with the financial means to secure adequate nutrition for their children. Additionally, UCB would reduce poverty and improve access to healthcare and education, further promoting child well-being and development.

Additionally, a study by the World Bank found that UCB programs in low-income countries have led to reductions in child poverty, malnutrition, and mortality (World Bank, 2020). These findings underscore the potential of UCB to make a significant and positive impact on the lives of Kenyan children.

Disability-specific child benefits

While a Universal Child Benefit (UCB) would undoubtedly improve the well-being of all Kenyan children, it is important to recognise the unique needs and challenges faced by children with disabilities. Children with disabilities often require additional resources and support to participate in society and reach their full potential. A separate child benefit for children with disabilities would serve as a crucial supplement to the regular UCB, ensuring that these children have the means to access the specialised care and services they need to thrive.

Children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by poverty, malnutrition, and lack of access to education and healthcare. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, children with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than children without disabilities. They are also more likely to experience malnutrition, with stunting rates among children with disabilities being 43% higher than among children without disabilities. Furthermore, children with disabilities face significant barriers to accessing education, with only 11% of them completing primary school compared to 29% of children without disabilities.

A separate child benefit for children with disabilities would address these inequities by providing families with the financial means to afford specialised care, assistive technologies, and educational support for their children. This would allow children with disabilities to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to society.

Moreover, a separate child benefit would send a strong message of inclusion and support to children with disabilities and their families. It would recognise the unique challenges they face and demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that they have the same opportunities to succeed as their peers. It could also mark a turning point for the government, when a small investment could not only make a difference to thousands of lives but could also re-emphasise the popularity of the relatively new president.

As the series ends, I want to express that I have experienced the challenges faced by children with disabilities and their families first-hand. Growing up with a disability, as a Deaf/sign language user myself, I have experienced the financial burden of specialised care and assistive technologies. I believe that a separate Universal Child Benefit for children with disabilities would be a significant step towards achieving the goal of ensuring that all children with disabilities have access to the resources they need to reach their full potential. I believe that a social protection system that includes a separate child with disabilities benefit is essential to achieving this vision.


References

  • African Child Policy Forum (2009). Terms of reference for implementing partners for the study: Documenting the realities of children with disabilities in Africa. Ethiopia: ACPF.
  • Government of Kenya (2019). Kenya Social Protection Sector Review, 2017. https://www.developmentpathways.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Kenya-Social-Protection-Sector-Review-Report-1.pdf
  • Kidd, S. and Athias, D. (2020). Hit and Miss: An assessment of targeting effectiveness in social protection with additional analysis. https://www.developmentpathways.co.uk/publications/hit-and-miss-an-assessment-of-targeting-effectiveness-in-social-protection/
  • Ransom B. (2009). Missing Voices: Children with Disabilities in Africa, Published for ACPF.
  • The Republic of South Africa, Department of Social Development (2009). Integrated national strategy on support services to children with disabilities. DSD: Pretoria.
  • Singh, S. (2008). Briefing to the Joint Monitoring Committee on Children, Youth and Persons with Disabilities: Implementation of rehabilitation programmes by the Department of Health. Presentation made by Director: Chronic Diseases, Disabilities and Geriatrics, Department of Health.
  • UNICEF (2005). Excluded and Invisible: The State of the World’s Children, 2006, New York: UNICEF Available at: www.unicef.org
  • United Nations (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Available at: www. un.org/disabilties.
  • United Nations (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2007). Promoting the Rights of Children with Disabilities. Innocent Digest 13. Available at: www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest13-disability.pdf
  • Yeo R., 2001, Chronic Poverty and Disability, Action on Disability and Development.