|© UNICEF Lesotho/2009|
|Women and children take part in the launch of the new 'Child Grant Cash Transfer' programme in Lesotho.|
By Clelia Barbadoro
MAFETENG, Lesotho 24 April 2009 – In the face of growing vulnerability and chronic poverty among children, the Government of Lesotho has launched a ‘Child Grants’ programme that will provide a regular and unconditional quarterly payment of about $38 to orphans and other vulnerable children, or OVC.
The landmark initiative will strive to improve the well-being of vulnerable children, such as those in child-headed households and those affected by HIV and AIDS.
“Households caring for OVC will have an opportunity to procure what they need most – to retain children at school, improve their health status and reduce malnutrition,” said the Deputy Principal Secretary of Health and Social Welfare Moliehi Khabele, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health.
The nexus of high levels of poverty, chronic food insecurity and a high prevalence of HIV has dealt a serious blow to child survival, development and protection in Lesotho. The Child Grant programme is the main component of a broader package of children’s services.
According to Ms. Khabele, the programme will serve “not only to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS but to break the cycle of poverty in which our neediest children are trapped.”
The future of Lesotho’s children
The European Commission is providing about $15.9 million between 2007 and 2011. The support will go through UNICEF to support the Government’s broader OVC programme, which focuses on improved access to education, HIV prevention programmes, health and psychosocial support, and nutrition.
Through the World Food Programme, food commodities such as maize meal and cooking oil will also be provided to children benefiting from the Child Grants.
“The future of Lesotho’s nation depends on how you treat your children,” said the Head of Delegation and Ambassador of the European Union to Lesotho, Peter Beck Christiansen.
Complementing, not replacing
Development partners and donors are realizing that some financial resources must be available within households to ensure that vulnerable children can gain access to essential services.
“Cash transfers do not replace other forms of assistance; they complement investment in service provision. When poor households can access services, they are in a better position to utilize the cash more effectively for the child,” said UNICEF Representative in Lesotho Aichatou Diawara-Flambert.
The programme was initiated in 2007, but has only recently been implemented.
“We didn’t have the expertise and resources to immediately roll it out. We are in a learning phase,” said Ms. Khabele. “It was imperative to set up solid foundations to sustain the programme…. Many systems and structures had to be put in place from scratch.”
A ‘first step in a long process’
Child Grants are attracting growing interest all over the world for their role in improving human development, reducing hunger and tackling extreme poverty and vulnerability. They are also increasingly recognized as an important element of an overall care package for children affected by AIDS.
The programme in Lesotho will be implemented in phases. The first pilot phase will cover three districts and reach approximately 5,000 children. “This is a first step in a long process of channelling cash to the needy OVCs,” said Mr. Christiansen.
One grandmother from Lesotho, Mampepuoa Nkane, 67, talked about the hardship of taking care of her five orphaned grandchildren and the impact of the Child Grants. “It’s hard to put food on the table every day” she said. “After my son passed away I was left to raise the children alone. Now I have more hope and I will not have to worry every day.”