Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Australia and UNICEF visit Savannakhet to observe how cash assistance contributes to child and family wellbeing

The visit underlines the importance of a Mother and Early Childhood Grant in improving access to health and child protection services in Lao PDR for pregnant women and children.

19 May 2022
Cash transfer
UNICEF Laos/2022/SSanoubane

17 May 2022 – The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MOLSW), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UNICEF paid a joint visit to Nong district of Savannakhet Province to observe an unconditional cash assistance under the Mother and Early Child Grant (MECG) that enhances the impact of social protection services in child and family wellbeing in Lao PDR.

During this visit, the Vice Minister of MOLSW, H.E. Leepao Yang, the Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia, Ms. Felicity Wever and UNICEF representative to Lao, Dr Pia Rebello Britto, visited health centers in Tangalai and Dongsan villages and were briefed by health workers on the cash transfer programme being implemented at community level. The delegation consisting of the Vice Minister of MOLSW, Representatives from the Australia Embassy and UNICEF also met with beneficiaries who received cash support to learn how the cash assistance is helping pregnant women, lactating mothers and newborns access healthcare services and adequate nutrition.

“Social protection plays an important role in addressing  poverty, deprivation and inequality. This grant is one of the most important ongoing social and child protection interventions in Lao PDR and forms a unified support to pregnant women, mothers and children. During our visit, we have seen how the cash programme has strengthened our national social protection strategy and systems for the delivery of social assistance program and thus ensuring that  “no one is left behind,” H.E. Leepao Yang said.

Cash assistance stands as one of the most efficient ways to support vulnerable communities due to its quick, safe and reliable delivery. Under the MECG programme, cash assistance is being provided to pregnant women and babies between 0-12 months in Lao PDR. MECG supports pregnant women and lactating mothers with a bi-monthly payment of 300,000 LAK to enable them to access adequate nutrition and healthcare services  in the first 1000 days of their child’s life. Beneficiaries will receive the assistance via U-Money, an electronic payment app, or a cash-to-door approach provided by Star Fintech.

“We are very happy that Australia’s support is helping to meet the needs of mothers and children in Lao PDR. The MECG initiative puts communities at its core and gives freedom to mothers to spend the cash on their children’s priority needs. Supporting mothers with cash also helps local economies, as people spend the money within their communities, contributing to socio-economic development in the Lao PDR,” said Bounmy Souvannalath, Senior Program Officer for Education and Inclusion, the Australian Embassy to Lao PDR.

The MECG pilot is part of the United Nation’s Joint-Programme (UNJP) entitled “Leaving no one behind: Establishing the basis for social protection floors in Lao PDR”, a joint initiative between UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). The UNJP is aimed at strengthening the Government of Lao PDR’s capacity for planning, managing and implementing the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) signed in April 2020, which is a roadmap for the development of the social protection system, under which the MECG is the main project within this strategy. The initiative aims to assist at least 2,000 children aged 0-12 months via an integrated package of welfare services, including the cash assistance, early childhood wellbeing services and support for birth registration.

“We are seeing the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for those most vulnerable, including mothers and children in disadvantaged areas. The cash support is a testament to UNICEF’s commitment to women’s empowerment, gender equality and the improvement of women’s financial inclusion during particularly this critical time, while strengthening national capacities to provide support to mothers and their children,” Dr. Rebello Britto said.

The implementation of the UNJP is led by MOLSW in partnership with relevant ministries, the provincial and district authorities of the pilot districts and the UN in Lao PDR. The pilot cash assistance has been implemented since January 2020 in the districts of Sanamxay and Phouvong districts of Attapeu and Nong district of Savannakhet.

The programme is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Joint SDG Funds on Social Protection, with MOLSW leading and coordinating its implementation at both the national and sub-national levels, with technical support from UNICEF Lao PDR.

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