Social protection can ensure children’s access to an adequate standard of living, health, education and care, and represents a safety net against the effects of poverty and deprivation in childhood that have ramifications that can last a lifetime. The role of social protection is particularly critical in crisis-affected and fragile contexts like Libya, where a decade of protracted conflict and instability have limited the population’s access to public services and livelihoods. Despite the emphasis placed on this topic, globally, millions of children are not covered by social protection systems, with important disparities across regions. In 2019, only 16 per cent of children in Africa were receiving social protection benefits.
This study, conducted by UNICEF and UNHCR, in partnership with REACH, examines the social assistance system for children in Libya. As the country transitions from a humanitarian crisis toward stabilisation and recovery, there is a growing interest in understanding the legal and administrative framework that underpins social protection, as well as how programmes targeting vulnerable population groups, including children, function in practice. In line with these questions, the Libyan authorities have already validated in October 2021 a roadmap for the elaboration of a national social protection policy.
The research draws on an extensive litterature review, secondary data review as well as primary data collection which took place between August and December 2021. This included 37 key informant interviews (KIIs) with service providers from the investigated implementing agencies (Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Solidarity Fund) and academics, 53 KIIs with social workers, 202 individual interviews (IIs) with Libyan service users, and 30 KIIs with migrant and refugee community representatives. The methodology allows for an understanding of the legal framework underpinning social protection in the country, as well as how the registration process works in practice for various population groups. The research also focuses on the bottlenecks and barriers faced by applicants when they try to access social assistance programmes.
Legal and administrative framework
Libya is a signatory to several international and regional treaties that are relevant to social protection, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These treaties have been incorporated into the Libyan Constitutional Declaration, which recognises the right to social protection for all Libyan citizens, the Social Security Law (No. 13) of 1980, which stresses the right to social security to both Libyan and non-Libyan residents, and the Social Solidarity Law (No. 20) of 1998 that establishes a number of social assistance programmes.
However, the core principle of non-discrimination in the international treaties is seldom applied in the national legal framework or applied in practice. Indeed, social assistance schemes are only open to Libyan citizens, except for the Wife’s and Children’s Grant that targets all Libyan children and children of Libyan mothers and non-Libyan fathers, although findings indicated that this is still not enforced. These gaps in coverage are reportedly the results of challenges in law enforcement and unclear collaboration strategies between the institutions in charge of implementing social assistance programmes, namely the MoSA and the SSolF.
Social protection programmes in practice
The MoSA and SSolF run several social assistance programmes targeting vulnerable population groups, including the Basic Assistance, the Emergency Assistance, and the Wife’s and Children’s Grant. Mass media, and notably social and audiovisual media, are used by both implementing agencies to promote awareness and understanding of their programmes among the intended populations. Although these means of outreach appear to be efficient for the Wife’s and Children’s grant, the majority of beneficiaries of the Basic Assistance and those of the Emergency Assistance reported having heard about both programmes through their personal networks and in-person. However, the overall findings show that the current outreach is generally considered satisfactory by service providers and service users. Only national-level key informants (KIs) reported perceiving that the current outreach is weak and unequal across the country, especially in the South, where populations are reportedly less aware of the different services and programmes from which they could benefit.
The findings from this study also suggest that the registration process appears to be much easier for the Wife’s and Children’s Grant than for the two other programmes. Indeed, a considerable portion of interviewed Libyan families benefitting from this grant have been automatically registered with the programme, upon its reactivation, through the previous Head of Household Allowance. Those who did not benefit from the latter allowance, registered at the MoSA municipal offices by providing identification documentation, including a national identification number (NIN). Children of Libyan mothers and non-Libyan fathers must be enlisted in the foreigners database of the Civil Registry Authority (CRA). As for the Basic Assistance and the Emergency Assistance, applicants register at the SSolF municipal offices by providing several documents, including the NIN, family book or family status certificate, proof of residence, and a proof of not already benefitting from benefits or pensions provided by the Social Security Fund (SSecF).
The findings indicate a general lack of clear and standardised information management systems across registration offices and locations, which complicates and tends to delay the verification processes. This also seems to be the case for grievance mechanisms, which do not always exist in all registration offices.
Role and capacity of social workers
The findings from this assessment indicate that social workers can play a pivotal role in the implementation and management of social assistance programmes. In terms of outreach, although interviewed Libyan service users commonly reported perceiving that social workers do not play any significant role or that they are not aware of social workers’ role, a considerable minority of interviewed service users and social workers highlighted being aware of several tasks and responsibilities carried out by social workers. This includes the organisation of seminars and workshops by social workers, and in-person door-to-door campaigns. Social workers also reportedly inform legal guardians and parents in schools and care centres about social protection programmes and the registration process.
Moreover, findings suggest that social workers’ role is quite prevalent during the registration process, when they reportedly receive applicants, conduct a social assessment of their needs, and refer them to the appropriate programme department and registration service. Nonetheless, their role appears to be less known and limited for the Wife’s and Children’s Grant.
However, service provider KIs stressed the lack of training or trained staff and social workers, reportedly due to a lack of funding. It was particularly reported that computer illiteracy was prevalent in some offices, and that this illiteracy in turn results in ill-management of digital database for storing beneficiaries’ information. Moreover, some offices are lacking a sufficient number of staff to support applicants throughout the registration process. This was most commonly reported for Sebha.
Barriers and bottlenecks faced by applicants The findings from this study indicate that displaced children, children of Libyan mothers and nonLibyan fathers, children born out of wedlock, and those with disabilities are likely to face more barriers to accessing social protection schemes. This appears to mainly be due to a lack of documentation, and particularly of a NIN. Other commonly reported obstacles to register or receive the benefits were related to the liquidity crisis in the country and the challenges of coordination between government institutions that creates delays in the disbursement of the grants. These challenges appear to be more acute in the South where, generally, less financial and human resources are allocated to implementing agencies, and where a considerable minority of the population is of undetermined legal status (ULS). This group, which often includes migrant and refugee communities, which rely on their host community support, is generally excluded from formal social assistance programmes because of a lack of NIN.
Based on the findings of the study, policy recommendations were jointly developed with UNICEF and UNHCR, and commissionned by the MoSA and SSolF. Firstly, it is recommended that implementing agencies adhere to Libya’s commitments under international law, by removing all regulatory, physical, and attitudinal barriers to accessing social protection programmes for children with disabilities, children of ULS, and children born out of wedlock. Moreover, the MoSA and SSolF are encouraged to strengthen their efforts to enforce national laws that facilitate the inclusion of non-Libyan children in the social protection system, notably through the issuance of executive regulations.
Secondly, to enhance accessibility of social protection schemes, both agencies are also advised to increase their efforts to promote awareness and understanding of programmes, notably through mass media campaigns and targeted outreach. Alongside this, specific recommendations regarding the aforementioned groups that are more likely to face hurdles accessing social protection systems include: creating mobile social workers teams, enabling rapid obtentation of civil documentation as well as delays for displaced families, holding frequent meetings of the SSolF medical committees for persons with disabilities, and strengthening capacity building of staff.
Thirdly, the MoSA and SSolF are encouraged to build clear grievance mechanisms that would include mutliple channels for receiving complains to ensure widespread access. It is also recommended to train staff and allow for online procedures, as well as to create operational hotlines.
Eventually, in the long term, both agencies are advised to create efficient digital and integrated information management systems. This is especially recommended for the SSolF to reduce burden on staff, facilitate data sharing between offices, and enable timely transfer of funds to beneficiaries. It is also suggested to create common beneficiary registries across implementing institutions to increase responsiveness and inclusiveness of programmes.