On 11 August 2021 the President of Uzbekistan signed the decree “On measures of material support to low-income families and scaling up poverty reduction”. The decree implies that from 1 September 2021 benefits for children from low-income families will be introduced. The benefit will be provided to every child from low-income families till the 18th birthday. UNICEF commends the leadership of the country for this decision as it should facilitate enhancement of wellbeing of children and reduction of child poverty in Uzbekistan.
There is ample international evidence indicating positive impact of cash benefits on development and wellbeing of children. Besides of providing additonal resources to meet needs of children in nutrition, healthcare and education, child benefit reduce parents’ stress in providing for children and this contributes to establishing family environment favourable for child’s development. Receiving child benefits is positively correlated with availability of books, journal and other development resources in families, help parents to send time with children and to engage in their development.
Naturally provision of cash benefits increases overall family income and, therefore, results in poverty reduction, in particular, child poverty in a country.
Besides of the overall positive impact, the new child benefit is notable for being provided to every child, differently from the current allowances for low-income families. For example, the current childcare benefit implies payment only for one child under 2 y.o.. Presence of the second child of the eligible age does not imply change in the benefit amount. The new benefit sorts the problem out, because now every child is entitled for an incremental payment. Therefore, now families with multiple children, which tend to be more vulnerable, are entitled to receive financial support of bigger amount. This is fair as these families also have bigger needs due to presence of multiple children.
Children of younger age will receive higher amount. If currently the higher amount is provided to children under 2 y.o., then the new benefit implies a higher amount for every child under 3 y.o. International studies indicate that first 1,000 days are critical for child’ development. Malnutrition during this period leads to irreversible damage to child’s physical and mental development. Therefore, provision of higher amount to children during their first 3 years is a necessary condition for additional protection and support during this critically important period.
Regularity and duration of benefits are as important as their amount in ensuring their lasting and sustainable impact on improving wellbeing of children. Provision of large sum for a short period or once has much smaller impact than provision of regular payments during a longer period. It is very important that the decree implies extending the benefit duration from 6 to 12 months with unrestricted opportunity to re-apply. This measures should ensure that the new child benefits will have lasting and sustainable impact on improving wellbeing of children and reduction of child poverty in Uzbekistan.
Another notable feature of the new child benefit is that the eligible age has been extended from 14 to 18 y.o. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child anyone younger than 18 years old is considered a child and therefore should be entitled to receive state social assistance. The current update removes the existing inconsistency with international norms, when a child as young as 14 to 17 becomes ineligible to receive state social support (unless he/she is a breadwinner-loss survivor or has disability). Besides, the existing age limit implies that often 14-17 y.o. teenagers have to start working in order to support their parents or younger siblings. Obviously it comes at the expense of school attendance and academic performance thus limiting children to receive school education fully. Now being eligible to receive the state child benefit, these children will no longer need to work and will be able to return to schools.
UNICEF commends the leadership of the country on this decision, however, calls for continuing the reforms. As it is evident from international experience, universal child benefits, when every child despite of income of wealth is entitled to receive the child benefit, offer the best way to ensure that every child is provided with necessary resources for decent start in life and harmonious development. UNICEF remains committed to collaborate with the Government of Uzbekistan in implementing progressive universalization of the child benefits in our country, which should ensure that every child in Uzbekistan is protected.
Umid Aliyev, Social Policy Adviser of the UNICEF Representative Office in the Republic of Uzbekistan