Paying it forward: Expanding universal child grants in Nepal

Over the last decades, Nepal has experienced rapid demographic changes, resulting in a young and growing child population. However, many young children in Nepal remain exposed to poverty and hunger, especially those belonging to the most vulnerable groups.

We know that the early years of a child are critical for their development because children’s brains develop at an extremely rapid pace. Childhood malnutrition at this time can be particularly damaging, causing irreparable damage to their cognitive development and even dragging productivity and growth.

Like other countries, Nepal has a finite window of opportunity to invest in children and reap the social and economic benefits associated with a “demographic dividend” before becoming an aged society.

A brief history of Nepal’s Child Grant

To support vulnerable children, Nepal introduced the Child Grant programme in 2009. Every four months, mothers of eligible children, under the age of five, receive an unconditional cash transfer of NRs 1,600 (around US$14) to cover some of their most basic needs.

Although intended to be universal from the start, the Child Grant was initially targeted to children under five in the remote area of Karnali, as well as children from families belonging to a marginalized group called Dalits. These are some of the most vulnerable children in the country who suffer from persistent food insecurity and malnutrition.

A mother holding her swaddled baby.
© UNICEF/UNI199210/ShresthaMaiya Ramtel, 26, with her 4-month-old baby girl Angela in her home. Ramtel belongs to the socially marginalized Dalit community that receive the Child Grant programme.

By providing small amounts of money directly to families with young children, the grants are already changing lives for the better. Early evidence has found that Nepal’s Child Grant has led to dramatic increases in birth registration rates and has improved the ability of vulnerable families to buy food, clothes and other basic needs, despite the fact that these are still small amounts of money.

A mother receiving the child grant for her two kids says, “the child grant has given me the confidence that I can raise my children properly even though their father has gone to India for work.” Rita Sarki, a Dalit mother, talks about some of the benefits of receiving the Child Grant for her children:

With the money, I buy meat and eggs for my children. The nutritious food will help in my children’s development.

Reaching national coverage

Recognizing the potential of the Child Grant to make a real difference in the lives of children and contribute to Nepal’s development goals, the government committed to initiate the expansion of the programme. The vision is to see a Child Grant that is available to every family with young children across the country.

To reach this ambitious goal, Nepal is implementing a progressive geographic expansion strategy, starting with the most deprived districts first. To date, the programme has been rolled out to cover all children under five in the 8 most deprived districts, reaching 560,000 children. The government has fully funded and is supporting the enrollment of an additional 300,000 children in the following six districts as part of the 2019 expansion.

Given the success of the programme and increasing support among beneficiaries and implementing partners, the government is now considering accelerating its expansion to reach every family with children of the age of five in just three years.

Investing in children’s futures

The commitment to expand the programme represents a major financial investment in building stronger future generations. This is especially critical for a country which is striving to emerge from least developed country status and is still recovering from two devastating earthquakes.

We can learn a lot from the successful expansion of Nepal’s Child Grant. It shows that when it comes to the future development of the country, Nepal is making a conscious decision to put children first. Furthermore, it shows that universalist approaches towards social protection are feasible even in low income countries provided there is political support and commitment.

A young couple walk along the hillside with their children - a girl walking alongside and a baby in the mother's arms.
© UNICEF/UNI190805/ShresthaBashu Ramtel, 25 and Apsara Ramtel, 22, along with their daughters Sajana Ramtel, 4 and Sanju Ramtel, 3 months, walk to receive social security allowance at Pangretar, Sindhupalchwok, one of the most earthquake-affected districts in Nepal.

In Nepal, successive governments have continued to support the expansion of the programme. They know that supporting young children is not only right, but is also a smart investment in the country’s future.

Around the world, an increasing number of countries are already implementing and expanding child grants – a range of cash transfers programmes to protect children from child poverty and improve their well-being. To learn from them and present Nepal’s unique path towards universal national coverage, Nepal’s government with UNICEF Nepal’s support will be at the International Conference on Universal Child Grants organized this week by ODI, the ILO and UNICEF.

 

Antonio Franco Garcia is Social Policy Officer at UNICEF Nepal. @AntonioFranco__

Thakur Dhakal is Social Protection Specialist at UNICEF Nepal. @tdhakal1

 

Universal Child Grants – a universal solution to child poverty? Read a conversation with UNICEF’s Regional Social Policy Expert for Europe and Central Asia, Joanne Bosworth.

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