UNICEF leverages national cash transfer scheme to help beat high rates of child malnutrition
UNICEF helps government link social protection measures with nutrition, and provide over 115,000 families in five municipalities reporting the highest stunting rates with information on good nutrition practices.
UNICEF leverages national cash transfer scheme to help beat high rates of child malnutrition in Timor-Leste
There are many statistics that call for attention in Timor-Leste, but two are of particular concern, as they affect a large share of Timorese children and have dire consequences throughout the life cycle.
The first is that in Timor-Leste, 48% of children (ages 0 to 17) live under the national poverty line. This has a devastating impact. Worldwide, the poorest children are twice as likely to die in childhood than their wealthier peers. For a child, poverty can last a lifetime. Children who grow up impoverished suffer from poor living standards, develop fewer skills for the workforce, and earn lower wages as adults.
The second alarming figure is that in Timor-Leste, 47% of children under the age of five are stunted and 8.6% are wasted. Malnutrition in its different manifestations –stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight, and obesity – is a risk marker for poor child development. Malnutrition has profound and long-term effects on individuals and societies, including diminished cognitive and physical development, reduced productive capacity and poor health, and an increased risk of degenerative diseases such as diabetes.
The situation has likely been exacerbated due to the hardships that families have faced in recent years with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Easter floods, and the significant consumer price increases linked with global shocks.
In response, the government of Timor-Leste is providing direct support to its population though a near-universal cash transfer: a year-end payment of US$200 per household. Nearly 340,000 households are expected to benefit from this scheme. This is the second time that the government is carrying out such a massive cash transfer, the first being in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 lockdown.
In 2020, when the government carried out its COVID-19 cash transfer, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Health (MoH), and the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI) to provide information products on COVID-19 prevention, and infant and young child feeding. Similarly, UNICEF is leveraging the most recent cash transfer scheme to disseminate information on good nutrition practices, including on early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, supplementary feeding and adequate nutrition for children. The nutrition messages were incorporated into a calendar format so families get exposed to messages on a regular basis when using these calendars.
“Linking cash transfers to empowering families with the necessary knowledge to adopt positive health and nutrition practices can be a powerful lever in reducing the alarming rates of malnutrition in Timor-Leste,” says Bilal Durrani, UNICEF’s Country Representative. “This initiative serves as a daily reminder to put the nutrition needs of children first.”
With UNICEF’s support, the relevant government Ministries are distributing these calendars with nutrition messaging in the five municipalities with the highest stunting rates, Ainaro, Aileu, Bobonaro, Ermera and Oecusse Special Administrative Region. Over 115,000 families are expected to benefit from this intervention.
“This calendar is great because it has information on health that helps us mothers to have a better understanding,” says Angelica Soares from Leguimia suco in the Ermera municipality, who received the calendar and put it up on the front door in her house.
These key messages on how to best use the cash to keep children healthy will be reinforced by the Ministry of Health's other health promotion channels throughout the year, including through health care workers and the over 6,000 members of community-level mother support groups in all municipalities.
“We are hoping that such initiatives become a norm in Timor-Leste, ensuring that social protection interventions are used as a vehicle for providing information and services to children and families across the country, be it in nutrition, education, health or protection,” says Emmanuelle Collet, UNICEF’s Chief of Social Policy in Timor-Leste. “It is more cost-effective to integrate together different interventions, which can speed up progress in improving children’s lives.”