Global poverty is connected to the lack of access to education that many young girls face. In Malawi, a program offers cash incentives to young girls and their families in order to encourage school attendance. The results have exceeded expectations of the girls’ school attendance, and there are also additional health benefits for these young women.

Young girls are often not encouraged to attend school because their parents do not understand the value of education for girls or would prefer for them to help out at home. A recent extreme case in Pakistan is a clear example. A father strangled his three girls to death because he did not want to “waste money” on their education and felt that the girls were a burden to his family.

While stories such as this one are shocking, the conditional cash transfer program in Malawi works to help alleviate the barriers to education for young girls and their families. On the other hand, the father of the young girls in Pakistan refused to provide them with any money, and their school fees had to be paid for by their maternal grandparents.

The Zomba Cash Transfer program in southern Malawi offers girls and young women aged 13 to 22 and their parents up to $15 per month if the girls attend school regularly. An additional group in the study received the money without conditions, and a control group did not receive any money.

Improvements in school attendance were observed after 18 months. There was no significant difference between the two groups that received the cash payments, suggesting that education can be valued without forced restrictions if families can afford to send their children to school.

In addition to the increased school attendance, there were changes in the sexual behavior of these young girls. Girls had less sex and chose safer, younger partners. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy were also reduced. Most significantly, the International Center for Research on Women states that there was a “reduction by 60 percent of HIV prevalence rate and [a decrease of the] HSV2 (herpes simplex virus) infection.”

The program targeted 23,561 households in seven of Malawi’s districts and has the potential to be scaled up even further. In addition to sending their children to school, families used the money to buy food, medicine and farming supplies, and to travel to the hospital to buy antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. The money can help lift families out of poverty and empower young girls. With proper education, these girls can then participate fully in society and help break the devastating cycle of poverty for their own children.

David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF U.K., believes that investing in education for girls benefits everyone in society. Girls will specifically benefit from the obtainment of skills to participate in society and protect themselves. However, businesses will also be able to hire more qualified women and broaden their customer base. When half of a country’s population is prevented from participating fully in the economy, economic growth will be stunted.

Global health and development, as well as the protection of human rights for girls, are central global goals. While conditional cash transfer programs need to be further evaluated to understand their sustainability and long-term effects, there is promise for great improvements in gender equality.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: Boston University, Daily Mail, The Guardian, International Center for Research on Women, National Center for Biotechnology Information, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Photo: Camfed

India Experiments With Cash Assistance Program

With social programs across the world, corruption and inefficiency are always an issue. In India, the Public Distribution System, or PDS, is the largest network that provides food and other necessities to the 350 million who live below the poverty line. Economists have recently begun to formulate an experiment to get aid directly to the hands of recipients in the form of checks that they can spend as they choose.

PDS currently uses ration cards which allow people to buy grains at a cheaper price. However, there are quite a few middlemen and illegal happenings which can end up leaving anywhere from five percent to 15 percent of the original amount to the ration cardholder. With this new proposition, however, the government must deal with many theories and statistics of failure and the possibility of biting off more than they can chew.

The cash system would require recipients to open bank accounts. Only 40 percent of Indians currently have a bank account due to the impracticality of it for rural dwellers who either do not have close access to a bank or are not able to pay the fees required to have one. The idea of banking correspondents has been suggested to counter this issue. These correspondents can be explained as human ATMs who physically go to villages and customers, allowing them to withdraw money.

Reetika Khera, an economist from the Indian Institute of Technology conducted a survey asking PDS users their preference for food vs. cash. Although two-thirds said they preferred food, Paul Niehaus of GiveDirectly (an NPO that works to transfer donations electronically to poor Kenyans) warns that surveys are not the best way to test the theories. Most people who are a part of PDS have been living in a paternalistic system, as Indian economists say, where they have become comfortable and accustomed to the ration cards and are told how to spend their benefits.

These cash systems have been implemented in Mexico and Brazil where families must meet certain benchmarks and goals in order to receive their benefits. Although India’s population is significantly larger, certain states which have already put this new system to use have noticed an improvement in the distribution of funds and a decrease in corruption.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.EXIST, NY Times