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A critique of social policy for children in Nepal:liberal, informal, minimalist-state welfare regime

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posted on 23.02.2017, 01:42 by Khadka, Suman
Despite the majority of Nepalese children struggling to meet basic needs there have been negligible attempts to examine the effectiveness of social policies for children in Nepal. Equally challenging is the use of inappropriate frameworks, primarily the UN-Child Rights Convention (UNCRC), the development approach, and a non-hierarchical notion of child well-being (CWB) to conceptualise such policies. This calls for alternate approaches such as welfare state frameworks (WSF) while formulating such policies. But despite the usefulness of WSF in combating absolute child poverty in the West these frameworks are rarely applied in the ‘developing’ world. Hence in the first of its kind this study uses the overall theoretical guidance of a WSF and specific theories of welfare state regime (Esping-Anderson, 1990) and welfare regime (Gough and Wood, 2004) to examine social policy and CWB in Nepal. This study uses a critical epistemology for investigation. Whilst the study is exploratory, it has a normative-descriptive purpose. It is a qualitative study but it also incorporates a quantitative component. Data are collected by interviewing 37 children and their 35 caregivers. This is complemented with secondary data and interviews with 37 key informants. Data is analysed using a thematic analysis process using both deductive categories, derived from theoretical frameworks, and inductive categories, drawn from primary data. The study shows that while CWB is conceptualised as a multi-dimensional notion some dimensions were prioritized from a hierarchical and an objective basic needs perspective, which broadly match the five welfare services of WSF. This confirms the appropriateness of WSF as a conceptual framework. The study finds that Nepal’s social policy comprises a myriad of ad hoc welfare services that fail to secure children’s welfare. Nepal can be classified as a less effective liberal informal minimal-State welfare regime where four welfare institutions (State, market, informal networks and households) interact to produce a regime of commodification (dependence on the private sector) and adverse informalisation (dependence on informal providers) of welfare services due to the minimal-universal or selective-residual role of the State. On the other hand a small group of people, primarily from the formal sector and certain occupations (army and police), access better services. The outcome is that children are highly stratified, primarily along employment type (formal versus informal) and income, and secondarily along English speaking versus Nepali speaking and those using private versus Government services. The study finds that informalisation of child welfare services in protection was reflected in a laissez-faire approach to children’s policy which has created the informal status of children, a de-facto citizenship-less status where children are not monitored for support. The study confirms that application of the theories of both Esping-Anderson (1990), designed for advanced capitalist countries, and Gough and Wood (2004), developed for semi-capitalist countries, were useful in the case of Nepal, a semi-capitalist country. However the social policy agenda is not simply about de-commodification or de-informalisation but about combining both such that Nepal moves towards a social democratic welfare state model in the long run while pursuing a social capitalistic welfare regime model in the interim. In particular, the focus should be on ensuring egalitarianism in services rather than changing providers, formalising informal networks and making private services affordable. In the case of child protection, policy needs to be State-paternalistic and parentalist. The existence of a ‘mini’ welfare state (the army’s health and education model) reconfirms a desire for and the possibility of using it as a role model. The study findings have the capacity to help transform Nepal into a welfare state helping transform lives of millions of children as well as contribute to the efforts of developing a global social policy model.


Principal supervisor

Rosemary Sheehan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Primary Health Care. Social Work

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences