EDITORIAL: Social Protection – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper

Many economists believe that government investment in social protection schemes is a waste of resources, money that could have been invested in productive areas that stimulate the economy and help create jobs. But studies in Nepal in the past have shown that social protection has had a positive impact on reducing poverty and family vulnerability. Today, a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund shows that social protection, which helps families cope with economic and health shocks, reduces the work of children and facilitates schooling. The report is based on evidence from a number of studies conducted since 2010. While there are different reasons for investing in social protection, “eliminating child labor has to be one of the most compelling , given its pernicious impact on the rights and well-being of children. ‘, says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Although child labor has declined rapidly in Nepal, the fact that it is still endemic, with more than one million children under the age of 14 still engaged in it, is a reality. This means that their families do not receive family or child benefits, or even if they do, the money is too little to put the children out of work.

Nepal has launched a number of social protection schemes which have yielded significant dividends. In the mid-1990s, the then UML government launched the Old Age Allowance, or Elderly Allowance scheme, under which citizens reaching 70 years of age are entitled to Rs 4,000 per month today. Studies show that in most families, especially in rural communities, the money was used to pay school fees for their grandchildren or for the treatment of family members. However, some have taken out loans from a micro-finance company to start a business against a guarantee of the old-age allowance.

A similar program exists only for residents of Karnali province. Another program of Karnali is the “Girls Bank Account, Lifelong Security Programme”, under which the provincial government deposits 500 rupees every month into a girl’s account from birth for a period of 20 years. At the end of the period, a sum of Rs 200,000 will have been deposited in her account – sum to which she is entitled if she remains single until then and has completed secondary education.

Madhes Province has a similar program for girls – the “Save Daughters, Educate Daughters” campaign. There are government allowances for unmarried women while it provides financial subsidies to patients diagnosed with cancer or requiring heart surgery. And let’s not forget that there is the Workers’ Provident Fund and now the Social Security Fund which provide the much-needed cushion at retirement age.

Nepal’s welfare schemes may not pay much, but they are a manifestation of the government’s intention to provide even minimal assistance to its citizens in need. But still a good percentage of citizens are without any social protection as evidenced by endemic child labor and out-of-school children. It would therefore be in the country’s interest to design social protection schemes that are inclusive and sensitive to child labour.

Health worker safety

The government has amended the Safety of Health Workers and Bodies Act 2010 to ensure the safety and security of health workers and health facilities. The government had to change the law following increasing incidents of abuse of health workers and vandalism of health facilities following the death of patients during treatment. The amendment notice, published in the Nepal Gazette this week, prohibits all kinds of disruptions in health facilities and improper behavior with health personnel. The local administration should provide comprehensive protection to health workers and health facilities upon request of the relevant facilities.

Anyone who commits an offense could face a prison term of two to five years or a fine not exceeding Rs 500,000, or both. At the same time, doctors and relevant health institutions should also properly inform the family members of the affected patient(s) about their health condition in time so that they are fully prepared for any eventuality.

Good communication with patients’ relatives can help prevent aggrieved parties from committing unruly acts. But, the law should offer no legal protection to a doctor who is wrong.

A version of this article appears in the May 20, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.

Joel C. Hicks