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Broaden cash transfer plan to cover more children, State told

Post Primary and Grade 1 pupils feed at lunch break in Bungule Child development centre, Taita Taveta County. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

As time ticks towards the close of the pioneer pilot of the Universal Children Benefits programme, parents are appealing for an expanded plan to benefit more children.

The plan which focuses on health, education and nutrition for children of three years and below has successfully been tried in three counties of Embu, Kajiado and Kisumu.

More than 8,000 children have so far benefited from the plan whose pilot ends in December. Under the plan, each of the targeted children gets Sh800 per month.

But as the Sh80 million programme comes to an end, stakeholders are calling for an expanded social protection plan for the children to accommodate more.

Those who spoke to the Saturday Standard said many children are in dire need of the cash to sustain them at this time of their lives.

Margaret Netto, a parent in Nairobi said children below three years need food supplements since that is when their brains acquire critical neural functions and structures that serve as the foundation for future cognitive, social, emotional, and health outcomes.

‘‘The government should broaden the UCB net for children to accommodate ages 0-17 years. The children should not be removed until they attain their 18th birthday,’’ she said.

‘‘The allowance should be readily accessible and of sufficient frequency to meet cash needs. The piecemeal won’t assist these families to help address the growing problem of income instability,’’ she noted.

Assistant Director, Children Services at National Social Protection Services Peter Ombasa said the programme is at its pilot stage and provides cash benefits to families with children regardless of a family’s income.

He noted that after the trials, the government will gather data and analyse it which will be the basis of its next cause of action.

 “As the programme progresses, we are learning a lot from it which will give us the basis of our next cause of action. We are flexible to all feedback and we know we shall get a head start in the next action,’’ said Ombasa.

Ombasa said UCB cash transfers are a proven, practical intervention to address poverty and improve children’s well-being across a range of outcomes, including health, education, food security and productivity and ability to contribute to their societies and economies when they reach adulthood. 

He admitted that the current cash transfer may not be sufficient considering the current financial situation but noted that the figure was arrived at before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

‘‘We settled on the Sh800, for 8,264 children and 7,636 caregivers before the Covid-19 struck but the government will consider raising the amount after the pilot from the report we will have gathered,’’ he added.

He reiterated that the age bracket is also considered in order to accommodate more children to supplement the government effort toward school feeding programmes and free primary education.

‘‘For now, UCB is granted to parents and caregivers to cover the costs of bringing up children below three years. In some areas, many children drop out of school to supplement their parents' effort of putting food on the table," said Ombasa.

Richard Obiga, Senior Programme Officer noted that cash transfers reduce the risks of a child becoming involved in child labour, and protect against early and risky sex involvement for girls.

Jane Adara, a parent from Nakuru said payment levels should be adequate for a family to address the basic needs.

She noted that families with younger children should be eligible for more money since early childhood is when children’s developmental needs are greatest, the costs of child-rearing are highest, and family incomes tend to be lowest.

‘‘Policymakers should consider increasing the per child capital levels with additional children, reflecting economies of scale present in larger families. The current subsidies of Sh800 are inconsequential considering the current economic hardship,’’ Adara added.

Anita Mwanzia, also a parent said the programme is a unique window of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and brain development across the lifespan are established.

‘‘Many children drop out of school at around the age of 15 years and above, potentially because they need to seek work to supplement their families’ incomes,’’ said Mwanzia.