Social Development


Protection, Empowerment and Equality: ESCAP supports the building of a socially inclusive society for all in Asia and the Pacific, including women, youth, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Asia-Pacific is a region of great diversity and disparity, presenting a contrasting picture in terms of progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals —a set of eight time-bound and measurable goals to reduce poverty and advance overall development.
Despite dynamic economic growth, which has helped lift millions of people out of poverty, the region still accounts for over 950 million people living on less than $1.25 a day. In the coming decades, emerging challenges may further strain the fabric of societies and erode social cohesion, from rising socio-economic disparities within and between countries, to rapid population ageing, youth unemployment, increasing migration and the impact of climate change.

Against this backdrop, ESCAP works towards supporting member States to shape a more inclusive society that protects, empowers and ensures equality for all social groups. Particular focus is given to the needs of women, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and people living with HIV. Guided by internationally agreed commitments as well as regional mandates, ESCAP helps countries in the region to better prepare for emerging population and social challenges and tackle persistent ones.

Building on its strength as the most comprehensive regional intergovernmental forum in Asia-Pacific and its unique convening authority, ESCAP promotes change at the policy and institutional levels, working to support governments in the formulation and implementation of social development policies and programmes.

To provide a sound basis for governments’ policy decisions, ESCAP conducts applied research on social policy options, strategies and programmes. It promotes regional cooperation and assists countries in reaching consensus to accelerate the implementation of internationally agreed commitments to promote the social integration of vulnerable groups and gender equality.


The Asia-Pacific region is currently home to about 60 per cent of the world’s population of older persons, defined as people at 60 years or older. The region is experiencing population ageing at an unprecedented pace, due to rapidly falling fertility rates and tremendous improvements in life expectancy. The number of older persons in the region is expected to more than double from 547 million in 2016 to nearly 1.3 billion by 2050. By then, one in four people in the region are expected to be over 60 years old. It is also projected that the proportion of the “oldest-old”, those above 80 years of age, will increase and constitute one fifth of the older population in the region by 2050. Due to the longer life expectancy for women, the majority of older persons are women with their proportion increasing with age: among the population older than 80, 63 per cent are women.


One in every six persons in Asia and the Pacific has some form of disability: 650 million men, women and children. The number is expected to rise over the next decades due to population ageing, natural disasters, chronic health conditions, road traffic injuries, poor working conditions and other factors. Despite the constant increase in their number, persons with disabilities tend to be unseen, unheard and uncounted. They are often excluded from access to education, employment, social protection services and legal support systems, and are subject to disproportionately high rates of poverty. They continue to face both barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights.

Gender Equality

When guaranteed through equal opportunity, choice and access to resources, women’s full participation in society and the economy multiplies the capacity of all for sustainable economic growth and social development.


The HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific continues to outpace the response. New infections are primarily concentrated in urban centres and among key populations at higher risk of HIV exposure - sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men (MSM), young people, transgender people, migrants and prisoners. Individuals from these groups face legal and policy barriers that impede their access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and drive stigma and discrimination.

Inequality and Social Protection

Despite high and enduring economic growth and significant progress in terms of poverty eradication, inequality persists in the Asia-Pacific region, and in some instances has intensified. Growing disparities in income and wealth, as well as unequal opportunities, reinforce each other creating an “inequality trap” that disproportionately affects women and the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and migrants.

International Migration

In 2015, there were over 60 million migrants in countries of the ESCAP region, and over 98 million migrants from ESCAP countries living outside their countries of birth, 40 per cent of all migrants in the world. These figures include labour migrants, refugees, and students engaging in temporary or permanent migration, both within the region and beyond.

Population Dynamics

ESCAP’s focus on population dynamics reflects the changing landscape of the region. Asia-Pacific, with over 4.5 billion people in 2016, is home to nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population. It is a diverse region, with seven of the world’s ten most populous countries, and also some of the world’s smallest island nations in the Pacific.


In Asia and the Pacific, there are 717 million young people aged 15 to 24, comprising 60 per cent of the world’s youth. Across the region large numbers of them have benefitted from social and economic development. Youth unemployment remains the lowest among all regions of the world, at 11 per cent. Between 2003 and 2013, secondary and tertiary education gross enrolment rates increased from 59 to 77 and 18 to 30 per cent respectively.