How the child benefits programme could secure our collective future

Children play at their home at Bidii centre in Kitale. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The Universal Child Benefits (UBC) providing beneficiaries (female caregivers – because they can be trusted to nurture children) with bi-monthly Sh800 cash (per child) transfers, and equipping them with nutrition, child protection and disability and gender-sensitive complimentary services such as sensitisation and practical training is a heart-warming and an excellent initiative by the government.

The beneficiaries testify to how this complementary cash transfer has benefited them and their children.

This programme will hopefully guarantee a future for Kenya, and is a priority the government has gotten right. Social protection is a right and an investment, not a return.

According to UNICEF Kenya, a partner in this project, a child’s brain develops fastest during first three years of life and this determines how they fare later in life.

They recommend a comprehensive package of good nutrition, health care, stimulation and early education as studies show return on investment from such interventions can be as high as 22 to one because of the different contribution to the economy the child is likely to make as an adult.

They observe that 1.5 million children (more with the drought) under five years are chronically malnourished, seriously harming their chances in later life.

In some counties this is over 30 per cent. Access to pre-primary education nationally is 78 per cent, but as low as 37 per cent in some counties, leading to substantial inequality in life chances.

This project, focusing on developing options for a national UCB outreach is being piloted in Kisumu, Kajiado and Embu counties. It is part of Kenya’s Social Protection Investment Plan (SPIP) in the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, supported by development partners and aims to reach all children by 2030.

It dovetails with sustainable development goals; one, end to poverty in all its forms and manifestations, two on zero hunger, three on good health and well-being, four on quality education, ten on reduced inequalities and seventeen on partnerships, to ensure these goals are achieved by 2030.

In addition, the project is within one of our main flagship programmes began by President Mwai Kibaki in 2004.

Having achieved his other flagship projects on children, universal and compulsory primary education and paving way to almost 100 per cent transitioning from primary to secondary schools by 2022, the next logical move was this project.

Indeed, if we were not rudely interrupted by Covid-19 pandemic, Kenya would be far in achieving SDGs and realising our flagship projects by 2030.

Studies show 67 per cent of Kenyan children do not eat iron-rich foods and we spent Sh374 billion to treat malnutrition. We can spend that money to build more schools and colleges and other infrastructure to cater for the future of our children if this project succeeds.

Female caregivers are taught about parenting, immunisation and nutrition; how to add iron-rich foods and give balanced nutrition to children from 0-36 months and ensure they are breastfed exclusively for first six months. They are also sensitised on what to do if they are expectant and HIV positive to avoid mother to child transmissions.

They also learn hygiene to ensure cleanliness and avoid diseases caused by dirt.

Healthy eating eliminates a number of diseases, making this is a wholesome project, which must attract more investment from government, funding partners, non-governmental organisations, religious and community based organisations.

According to the ministry and their partners, the project aims to cushion children and their families from socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, generate lessons for the introduction of a long-term UCB, and strengthen advocacy efforts and visibility for UCB.

The results are already being felt in the pilot counties, and it should be expanded to other counties to ensure no one is left behind, now not by 2030; by then it might be too late.

Beneficiaries supplement nutrition for children and save some money to invest in income generating ventures like chicken rearing. This is a worthy project with potential to secure the future of Kenya.

-Join the conversation @Koki_Muli @StandardKenya.