Cash transfers boost girls’ access to education in northern Nigeria

UNICEF, in partnership with Educate a Child (EAC) – Education Above All (EAA), is helping to drive children's enrolment in school through a cash transfer programme for families

Awwal Nasir, Communications Consultant, UNICEF Nigeria
A girl at school
UNICEF Nigeria
30 November 2020

Sometimes Farida Adamu can’t help but lament the opportunities lost to her two eldest daughters.

“My first daughter got married uneducated and the second is only attending Islamiya (Quranic school),” said Farida, a widow and mother of five, who lives in Kawara - Manu in Nigeria’s Kebbi State, in the far north.

However, thanks to a cash transfer programme, Farida’s three younger children are now enrolled in school and Farida has been able to set up a business to improve the family’s standard of living, while her children are in school.

Farida receives 24,000 naira (about 60 US dollars) per school term for her three children, which allows her to offset the cost of sending her daughters to school. The money has also helped her establish a groundnut processing business and has given her the means to enrol her second-eldest daughter in public school as well.

“Honestly, this money has broken the chain of poverty in my house, as I can now buy books, school uniforms and feed my children easily,” she said.

A beneficiary from the cash transfer programme
UNICEF Nigeria/2020
A beneficiary of the cash transfer programme in northern Nigeria.

It is an unfortunate reality that while access to education is recognized globally as a basic right for all children, financial and socio-cultural barriers - particularly for girls - make realizing that right difficult for many. In Nigeria alone, it is estimated that some 13.5 million school-age children are not enrolled in education. Those numbers are particularly high in northern states like Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, and Zamfara.

UNICEF, in partnership with Educate a Child (EAC) – Education Above All (EAA), is helping to change that situation through the cash transfer programme for families, which aims to get more out-of-school children into school. Launched in 2017, the programme was conceptualized to expand the reach of the Girls Education Project Phase 3 (GEP3) project implemented by UNICEF, with funding from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).  It has already had a significant local impact, with 38,160 families receiving cash transfers in three local government areas in Kebbi State.

The programme provides 8,000 naira (about 20 US dollars) per child to a mother or caregiver for each school term, helping to meet basic school needs, with enough left over to finance a small business. The objective is to help sustain the family and provide an income-generating platform as a longer-term solution to keeping children in school. 

The programme aims to return about 501,574 children to school who are currently missing out on an education.

While a challenge throughout Nigeria, resistance to sending girls to school is more prevalent in the north due to religious and socio-cultural beliefs, including a general mistrust of the intent and value of western education. Poverty is also a crucial factor.

There is evidence the intervention has already changed the lives of many families in the targeted states, and the expectation is that many more will benefit.

"I am optimistic that for those families who use the funds well, the sky is the limit,” said Usman Isa, UNICEF Education Consultant in Kebbi State. “The aim is that they will be lifted out of poverty for the rest of their lives.”

Aisha Ibrahim, a 30-year-old mother of three, said that before her involvement with the programme, she could not afford to give her two daughters an education.

“Before the cash transfer programme, it was only my son who was going to school,” she said. “My husband died two years ago, and I didn’t have a business. I therefore couldn’t afford to send all my children to school.” 

The payments she has received have allowed her to both enrol her daughters in school and start a livestock trading business.

“I now buy and sell goats and sheep,” said Aisha.  “I sold two goats last year for 25,000 naira. I used the money to buy the children school uniforms and textbooks, and to ensure they have good food, so they can learn.”