Broader social protection will help the poor and vulnerable in Asia and the Pacific to break the cycle of poverty and enhance the quality of the region's economic growth through better employment opportunities, increased productivity, and protection against economic shocks, a panel of experts said today.

HA NOI, VIET NAM - The civil society panel discussion, "Social Protection in the Asia Pacific Region From the Perspectives of Workers, the Youth, and the Aged," looked at how social protection helps to ensure decent work for all, promotes the rights of children and their families, and provides income security and care for the growing ageing populations in the region. The seminar took place at ADB's 44th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors here.

Despite remarkable achievements, economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has been uneven with millions remaining vulnerable to economic, social, and environmental risks. The ageing population, urbanization, and disintegration of family and community networks have contributed to increased social risks and inequalities. The global economic crisis, coupled with food and fuel price increases, further highlights the need to protect the poor and disadvantaged from unemployment, illness and disability, and natural disasters.

"Hundreds of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific remain mired in extreme poverty or are vulnerable to crises, such as economic downturns, natural disasters, or severe illness," said Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB's Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development and one of the panelists. "Unemployment and underemployment among youth is a growing problem with potentially serious consequences for society. Government measures that promote decent employment and provide social protection can limit human suffering and contribute to inclusive growth."

Since the global financial crisis, many Asian countries have adopted reforms to strengthen their contributory pension systems and better address the needs of groups not covered by formal social insurance. However, insufficient coverage and inadequate program benefits continue to be a key challenge, particularly for informal workers, women, the youth, and the elderly.

"Children and young people are less able to claim their rights to services like education, health, and legal protection and even less so if they are in marginalized groups," said Nigel Chapman, Chief Executive Officer of Plan International. "However, timely, child-sensitive social protection not only addresses factors which threaten to irreversibly derail a child's life opportunities, but can also benefit family, community, and nation."

ADB is currently conducting a landmark study of social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific. At the same time, ADB is helping governments track their performance in providing social protection. Results will be published in 2012, and are expected to provide valuable inputs into national and regional deliberations on reforming social assistance, social insurance, and labor market programs.

"In light of growing challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, we would also like to urge ADB to undertake an open and multi-stakeholder review of the Bank's 2001 Social Protection Strategy to ensure it supports decent work and inclusive growth," said Annie Geron, Vice President of Public Services International (PSI), speaking on behalf of global union federations.