Expand cash transfer plan to cover more children, state says

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Post-primary and first-grade students feed during lunch break at Bungule Child Development Center in Taita Taveta County. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

As time is running out toward the end of the pioneering pilot of the Universal Children Benefits program, parents are calling for an expanded plan to benefit more children.

The plan which emphasizes health, education and nutrition for children aged three and under has been successfully piloted in three counties of Embu, Kajiado and Kisumu.

More than 8,000 children have so far benefited from the plan, the pilot of which ends in December. Under this plan, each of the targeted children receives 800 shillings per month.

But as the 80 million shillings scheme draws to a close, stakeholders are calling for an expanded social welfare scheme so children can accommodate more.

Those who spoke to Saturday Standard said that many children are in dire need of money to support themselves at this point in their lives.

Margaret Netto, a parent in Nairobi, said children under the age of three need dietary supplements because that’s when their brains acquire essential neural functions and structures that serve as the foundation for future generations. cognitive, social, emotional and health outcomes.

”The government should expand the UCB Children’s Network to accommodate children aged 0-17. Children should not be removed until they reach their 18th birthday,’ she said.

“The allowance must be easily accessible and of sufficient frequency to meet cash needs. Piecemeal will not help these families solve the growing problem of income instability,” she noted.

National Social Welfare Services Deputy Director of Children’s Services, Peter Ombasa, said the scheme is in its pilot phase and provides cash benefits to families with children, regardless of family income.

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

“As the program progresses, we are learning a lot, which will give us the basis for our next cause of action. We are flexible to all feedback and know that we will be a step ahead in the next action,” Ombasa said.

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

He admitted that the current cash transfer might not be enough given the current financial situation, but noted that the figure was reached before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“We settled on the Sh800, for 8,264 children and 7,636 carers before the Covid-19 hit but the government will consider increasing the amount after the pilot based on the report we have collected,” he said. -he adds.

He reiterated that the age range is also taken into account in order to accommodate more children to complement the government’s effort towards school feeding programs and free primary education.

”At the moment, UCB is given to parents and carers to cover the education costs of children under three years of age. In some areas, many children drop out of school to supplement their parents’ effort to put food on the table,” Ombasa said.

Richard Obiga, senior program manager, noted that cash transfers reduce the risk of a child being involved in child labor and protect against early and risky sex for girls.

Jane Adara, a relative from Nakuru, said payment levels should be sufficient for a family to meet basic needs.

She noted that families with younger children should be entitled to more money since early childhood is when the developmental needs of children are greatest, the costs of raising children are highest and family incomes tend to be the lowest.

“Policymakers should consider increasing capital per child levels with additional children, reflecting the economies of scale present in larger families. The current subsidies of 800 shillings are inconsequential given the current economic difficulties,” Adara added.

Anita Mwanzia, also a parent, said the program is a unique window of opportunity when the foundations for optimal lifelong brain health, growth and development are laid.

“Many children drop out of school around the age of 15 and above, perhaps because they need to look for work to supplement their family’s income,” Mwanzia said.

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