Although parents in Mexico generally are aware of the long-term benefits of education, they sometimes pull their children out of school and send them to work. This is indicative of the vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty that afflicts many Mexican families.
The goal of the Oportunidades Program — Mexico’s primary anti-poverty program — is to put an end to this cycle by improving the health and education of the children. It represents 46.5 percent of the country’s federal annual anti-poverty budget and has so far benefitted 6 million people since its beginning in 1997.
The program conditionally supplements the families’ incomes and provides monetary educational grants so that parents can afford to send their children to school. Families are chosen by socio-economic evaluation and payments are given to the female head of the family.
The chief components of the program are as follows:
- Education: Grants are provided for primary school students all the way through high school. As students progress in their educations, the grants become slightly higher for girls than for boys. This has resulted in an enrollment increase of 20 percent for girls and 10 percent for boys in secondary school.
- Health: Government public health institutions provide basic health care for families with particular emphasis on preventative health care. As a result, children between the ages of one and five have a 12 percent lower incidence of illness. There has also been an 11.8 percent drop in anemia among children under age two.
- Nutrition: Families receive about 155 pesos monthly in order to increase the quality of the children’s food consumption. Nutritional supplements are also provided for small children and pregnant women.
Up to a third of the decrease in poverty in rural areas can be attributed to the Oportunidades Program, according to a 2014 world bank report. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) also evaluated the program’s effectiveness and found that after three years, children in rural areas have increased their school enrollment, have improved diets and have received better medical attention.
Recently the Oportunidades Program, now called Prospera, has spread to urban areas and extended high school education grants. The program has also been successfully replicated in 52 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Oportunidades’ resounding success proves that conditional cash transfer programs, even on a large scale, do in fact reduce poverty and prepare the country for long-term economic growth. This investment in human capital — primarily the children’s well-being and education — is an exemplary way to not only reduce poverty but eliminate it.
– Liliana Rehorn