Mpolokeng, 18, receives her first cash grant disbursement in Semonkong, Lesotho. As part of the programme, she will receive regular quarterly payments along with World Food Programme aid parcels.
By Clelia Barbadoro and Eva Gilliam
In the run-up to 20 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – including progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
LEBAKENG, Lesotho, 18 November 2009 – Mapalesa Sebatanyane, 73, is the primary caregiver for her four grandchildren, but she struggles to feed them with the small income she earns raising chickens in this remote village.
Recently, help arrived for Ms. Sebatanyane in the form of cash grants delivered by helicopter from the Child Grants Programme, an initiative of the Government of Lesotho, the European Union (EU) and UNICEF.
The right to social protection The programme is now several months into its initial pilot phase. It aims to improve the well-being of vulnerable children – including those who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, and those who live in families struggling with poverty, food insecurity, undernutrition and lack of access to essential services.
Besides ensuring every child’s right to have such basic needs met, the Convention on the Rights of the Child states, in Article 29, that all children – either through their guardians or directly – have the right to help from the government if they are poor or in need.
“The future of Lesotho depends on how you treat your children,” EU Ambassador to Lesotho Peter Christiansen said at an October ceremony to launch the Child Grants Programme.
Endemic poverty Half of the population of Lesotho lives below the poverty line, and the country has the world’s third-highest rate of HIV prevalence.
“We’ve had a very high maternal and infant mortality rate in this area and others that we have chosen to receive the grant,” said Lesotho’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng.
“We have children looking after families and people not looking after their health,” he added, referring to households in which children as young as 12 years of age care for younger siblings. “These are some of the factors that have contributed to destitution generally in these areas.”
Around 950 households – comprising over 2,370 orphans and vulnerable children – are currently benefiting from the small quarterly grants. This monetary assistance is gradually being complemented by other services, such as World Food Programme assistance and psychosocial support for families and children affected by HIV.
Along with large households like Ms. Sebatanyane’s that are unable to make ends meet on the income of a single provider, many child-headed households are beneficiaries of the grants programme.
The face of need Mpolokeng, an 18-year-old girl, and Sello, an 18-year-old boy, come from different areas but have much in common. Both lost their parents; both are heading their households and struggling to make ends meet; and both were waiting to receive their cash grants last month in Semonkong, central Lesotho.
“My father was a very strong man,” Mpolokeng recalled with a smile. “I used to be so happy every time he came home from the mines [in South Africa], because he used to bring us fresh apples, sweet potatoes and gifts.
“But over time,” she added, “he started getting sick and finally came home for good, to die. Then my mother got sick and I had to take care of her and my siblings, and had to drop out of school.”
Sello’s father also worked in the mines until he, too, became ill and died. “I miss him,” said Sello. “When he died, my mother followed, so we used some of our cattle for the funerals. I had to take care of the remaining cattle and of my siblings.”
Children confront triple threat Mpolokeng and Sello are just two of thousands of Basotho children confronted with enormous odds. The triple threat of poverty, HIV and AIDS, and food insecurity has dealt a serious blow to child survival, development and protection in Lesotho.
More than 160,000 children are orphans, robbed of the protective and nurturing role of their mothers and fathers. Of these, 110,000 are estimated to have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
After receiving her first grant, Mapalesa sets off for her home in the remote village of Thaba Qhubelu.
Despite the challenges they face, Mpolokeng and Sello are astoundingly resilient. Both have hopes and dreams for the future and were excited at the possibilities offered by the cash grants they were about to receive.
“My greatest wish is to go back to school, so that one day I can become a teacher and help other children learn and grow,” said Mpolokeng. “The money I will receive today will help me to buy myself a uniform so that next year, I can enrol in school again.”
Sello is following his father’s legacy to make sure his siblings have a better future. He plans to use the money to replenish his stock of cattle.
Successful pilot programme The disbursement in Semonkong marked the first complete payment covering all three communities in the cash-grants pilot programme: Matelile (Mafeteng district), Lebakeng (Qacha’s Nek district) and Semonkong (Maseru district).
Lesotho’s Deputy Principal Secretary of Health and Social Welfare, Moliehi Khabele, explained that the pilot phase is meant to develop and test effective systems for targeting, enrolment, payment to beneficiaries, monitoring, procurement and financial management – as well as training of stakeholders, public awareness and community involvement.
The pilot programme will be refined for a phased rollout in other districts of the country by 2011. In the longer term, the government plans to absorb the programme into its national budget.
“Cash transfers have the greatest impact when combined with other social services such as health, nutrition, education and protection,” said UNICEF Representative in Lesotho Dr. Ahmed Magan. “The grants are part of a greater child-sensitive social protection programme that will benefit entire families.”