Social protection holds strong for mothers and young children
How the government’s Cash Transfer Programme got the nation’s poorest families through the pandemic and continues to ensure the best start for their children
12 May 2022 Kratie Province– “Because of the cash transfer, I’ve been able to buy meat, vegetables, and milk to ensure good nutrition for myself and my small children, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are getting better, but it is still very difficult in my village”, shared Ms. Chorn Sreymom. Sreymom and other IDPoor mothers in Knang Pos village, in northeast Cambodia, receive 40,000 riel from the government for each regularly scheduled visit to a health center until their child turns 2 years old. For the poorest families, these payment mean being able to continue a nutrient rich diet, without being forced to de-prioritize travel to the health center for check-ups or school materials for their older children.
Today, Ms. Chorn Sreymom brought her eight-month-old baby, Phannet, and two-year-old son to a quarterly outreach visit organized by the Dar Commune Committee for Women and Children (CWCC) and the local health center, with the support from UNICEF. In these visits, village children get checked for normal growth and development, while mothers receive nutritional counseling, plus information on other essential services at the health center. For malnourished children, these visits are key to early detection and rapid treatment, before any lasting damage takes root.
It was in one of these outreach sessions that Sreymom first learned about the Cash Transfer Programme for Pregnant Women and Children under 2. Following advice from health workers, she went to the Dar Health Centre to get her first antenatal checkup and then to the commune to enrol and begin receiving her monthly payments.
Ms. Khun Dany is a midwife and antenatal nurse at Dar Health Centre. She began working there in 2016, the same year the pilot of the current national cash transfer programme launched. “In the past six years, I’ve seen our clinic go from seeing 20-30 patients per day to more than 100. Not only are daily patient visits up, but we’ve seen malnutrition go down. The quarterly outreach visits to villages make a big difference because families get to know the health centre staff and learn about our services. When they come in for visits, we help the most vulnerable families, those with IDPoor status, to sign up for the cash transfer programme – another reason we’ve seen malnutrition go down in our community.”
She is delighted to see how the system has improved since it was first implemented. “In the beginning, the process was all paper-based and took a lot more time between signing up and receiving money. Today I enter a new patient’s information into a tablet so that the commune can see they’ve been registered. From there, after a short visit to the commune office, they get their Wing card and receive an automatic transfer each month. I’m grateful to UNICEF for providing us tablets and training on how to use them so that families get the support they need as quickly as possible.”
Early steps towards this modern milestone began when UNICEF amplified its advocacy for social protection services aimed at vulnerable mothers and children in 2015. This led to the Government and UNICEF working together on a “Cash Transfer Programme for Poor Pregnant Women and Children (0-2 years old)” pilot in 2016. With the Prime Minister’s support, the programme was scaled nationally in June 2019, first through the Ministry of Health and then through the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth (MoSVY) in February 2020, reaching over 240,000 beneficiaries. Shortly after this handover, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the number of Cambodians qualifying for IDPoor status soared.
With the generous funding support of SIDA, the SDG Fund and the European Union, UNICEF worked hand-in hand with the National Social Protection Council and MoSVY to cover the growing number of IDPoor under the new national COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme for the Poor and Vulnerable and to extend the coverage of the existing programme to children over two years old, people with disabilities, the elderly, and people living with HIV/AIDS. Realizing the urgency of need, the digitized system for the delivery of the cash transfers for pregnant women and young children was upgraded, an existing money transfer partnership (Wing) expanded, commune leaders trained, and the new programme communicated in villages nationwide, all in a matter of months. Today, about 680,00 IDPoor families are now enrolled in a cash transfer programme and receiving benefits.
Although the planning and budget allocations for this programme happen at a national level, it is local touchpoints like nurse Dany and representatives of the CWCC, that make families aware of the programme, get them signed up and check on their well-being personally.
“Our commune greatly appreciates the support not only to mothers and young children, but also to other vulnerable groups, like people with disabilities and the elderly. Without the cash transfer, life would’ve been very difficult for so many families in my community”, shared Ms Lun Ny, Dar CWCC’s Representative, adding, “The cash transfer is even more impactful in the context of the outreach efforts which ensure nutritional guidance and regular health check-ups for mothers and children. The quarterly visits, like today’s, allow us to catch problems, like malnutrition, early and organize extra educational sessions for parents when a new need arises. It is also through these visits that many IDPoor mothers find out about the cash transfer”.
Ms. Bo Channthy, 27, is a housewife, whose husband is a seasonal laborer. They have three children. Her youngest child, Kunthy is two months old. Although Kunthy was born with a cleft lip, Channthy has put her cash transfers and nutritional counselling to good use, and today she was very happy to hear that her daughter is growing normally. The midwife that Channthy met through these quarterly visits provided counseling on nutrition, newborn care and supplementary feeding, and ensured all her children had been properly vaccinated.
“Especially during COVID, without the cash transfer I would’ve been forced to choose between buying rice, vegetables, milk, and meat to feed my family and being able to provide school uniforms, notebooks and other materials to support my son’s education.” Her son is seven years old and in Grade 2 at primary school. Her middle child is five years old but has not started school yet because the preschool is too far from their home to walk.
“With the help of the cash transfer, I am trying to put aside a little money every month towards a bicycle so my daughter can attend school next year.”
This cash transfer programme is part of an ever-strengthening web of social protection for 2.8 million of Cambodians who live in the most vulnerable circumstances. As the nation moves into recovery phase, the pandemic package is being scaled back. However, with ongoing support from SIDA, the SDG Fund and the European Union, the social protection package is taking new form - the Family Package. The Family Package will be rolled out by the Royal Government of Cambodia as a transition from the COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme to cover pregnant women and children under 2, children in primary and secondary schools, persons with disability, elderly and people living with HIV/AIDS.
UNICEF will continue working to ensure that all caregivers have the resources they need to provide the children in their charge with a strong foundation to learn, grow and thrive.