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Evidence from Africa shows cash transfers increase school enrollment

20 Feb 2015
Evidence from Africa shows cash transfers increase school enrollment

By Tia Palermo

An estimated 63 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 are currently out of school, according to a recent report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and UNICEF. This is a staggering number, and the barriers to school enrolment--poverty, conflict, gender discrimination, and child labour--are not easy to overcome. However, researchers are helping to identify what works in social protection to increase secondary school enrolment in Africa, particularly among the poorest, rural households – groups that were highlighted as having the greatest need in the new report. One tool in a national government’s arsenal of social protection strategies is cash transfer programmes, where households receive cash benefits on a monthly basis. Cash transfer programmes have increased secondary enrolment rates, between 5 to 12 percentage points in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia. Most cash transfer programmes in Africa are unconditional. Further, evidence shows that these programmes have the ability to encourage out-of-school students to return. There are several ways that cash transfers might increase school enrolment for children.
  • First, increased income in the short term through cash transfers might allow households to pay for school fees, uniforms, other supplies, and transportation.
  • Second, they might alleviate the need for children to work, therefore allowing them to attend school.
  • Finally, they might alter household members’ outlook on the future and decisions to invest in their children’s schooling.
Increased schooling will not only allow adolescents to gain better jobs and break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, but it also has protective effects against violence and HIV/AIDS. One study found that a one-year increase in schooling decreased the probability of an adult woman testing positive for HIV by 6 percentage points in Malawi and 3 percentage points in Uganda. Women and men with more education report later sexual debut and are more likely to use condoms once they do have sex, behaviours that reduce HIV risk. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study in ten countries and found that women with a secondary education (or those whose partners had a secondary education) were less likely to report having experienced intimate partner violence. Impacts of cash transfers in Africa are summarized in a brief released this week by the Transfer Project: a research partnership which aims to provide evidence through rigorous impact evaluations in an effort to allow national governments to better design and implement social transfer programmes. Researchers are currently evaluating social cash transfer programmes in a number of African countries, looking at education, and other non-traditional impact areas such as economic activity, livelihoods and resilience, HIV prevention, violence, early childhood development, intra-household decision-making, mental health, subjective welfare and time preference. Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All released by UNESCO and UNICEF highlighted many challenges to reducing the number of out-of-school adolescents, and noted that the most marginalized children are often those who are poor, disabled, in conflict zones, or are female. Social cash transfer programmes in Africa target several of these vulnerable populations and have shown promising impacts among the poorest households and those with other vulnerabilities, like disabled caregivers or households caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Increased investments and commitment to these social protection programmes are important steps in addressing the barriers identified above. Tia Palermo is Social Policy Specialist in the Social & Economic Policy Section at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where she conducts research with the Transfer Project. The Transfer Project is working to provide rigorous evidence on programme impacts in an effort to inform future programme design and scale-up. For more information on the Transfer Project’s research on cash transfers, we invite you to read our research briefs here.