ASEAN recognises that despite its economic achievements, socio-economic disparities still exist. Much work has to be done to uplift the quality of life of the socially vulnerable groups in the region. In this context, the Declaration of the Bali Concord II by ASEAN Leaders during the ASEAN Summit of 2003 committed the ASEAN Community to fostering cooperation in social development aimed at raising the standard of living of disadvantaged groups and the rural population, and seek the active involvement of all sectors of society, in particular women, youth, and local communities. ASEAN also puts emphasis on the need to address issues relating to the greying of populations in the region, as the issues do not only need social responses, but could also have economic implications.

ASEAN cooperation in the area of social welfare and development continues its effort in addressing social risks faced by children, women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Under its social welfare and development work programme of 2003 – 2006, ASEAN has completed some activities addressing concerns for older persons, early child care and development, and people with disability; and in building GO-NGO partnership.

In December 2007, the work programme of the ASEAN cooperation in social welfare and development for 2007 – 2010 was issued. The new work programme highlights three strategies to bring together ASEAN member countries in a regional context to address social welfare, family and children’s issues. These strategies include capacity building in human resources, documentation of standards and benchmarks for quality services, and partnership and inter-sectoral collaboration.

All activities undertaken under the ASEAN cooperation on social welfare and development come under the purview of the Senior Officials Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (SOMSWD). The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting for Social Welfare and Development (AMMSWD), which meets once every three years, oversees the overall work under the cooperation. In addition, under the framework of ASEAN cooperation with China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (Plus Three countries) the ASEAN Plus Three Meeting for Social Welfare and Development (AMMSWD+3) was established in 2004. The AMMSWD+3 is convened back-to-back with the AMMSWD and the SOMSWD+3 is convened back-to-back with the SOMSWD.