Cash transfers help children enrol in school

A gender-neutral programme targets both boys and girls in northern Nigeria

Geoffrey Njoku
Zamfara, Northern Nigeria
UNICEF Nigeria

20 May 2018

Zamfara State, Northern Nigeria, 20 May 2018 – The day Hadiza received 24,000 Nigerian naira (about $66) to help her send three of her children to school, she cried a little.

At 40, she had not seen that amount of money before in her entire life. Someone had to help her count it. Hadiza was paid 8,000 naira per child for three of her sons to enrol in school. It was part of the first instalment of cash transfers to mothers in Zamfara State, northcentral, Nigeria, intended to offset the cost of sending children to school.

There is resistance to sending children, especially girls, to school in this part of Nigeria. Of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country, about 60 per cent are girls. This problem is more prevalent in the north. A mistrust of the intent and value of western education is partly responsible for this. The other reason is the high level of poverty prevalent in these communities.

In an earlier attempt to improve this situation, the Girls’ Education Challenge, funded by the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), aimed to get 1 million girls into school by 2020. One of the unintended consequence of this was a decrease in the enrolment of boys – although Zamfara State, where Hadiza comes from, was not part of the DFID project. 

The Qatar Foundation stepped in to correct this anomaly. Under the Educate A Child (EAC) programme and through UNICEF, the foundation is funding a gender-neutral cash transfer programme that targets both boys and girls in Kebbi and Zamfara States.

So far, 3000 children have been registered and payments made to families, with an aim to reach 4,000 by end of this year, 2018.

With this money, three of Hadiza’s children are now enrolled in school.

“My eldest son was not as lucky as these children are now,” Hadiza said, pensively. “He spent the years he should have been in school rearing cattle for others for a small fee. Now, he knows a little Arabic and farms to survive.”

Hadiza is happy that in addition to keeping three of her children in school, the cash transfer programme is empowering her financially. After buying uniforms, books and sandals for her children, she invests whatever is left of the funds in a groundnut oil-producing business. From the profit, she funds her children’s breakfast and lunch in school. Without the profit, she would have had to withdraw the children from school so that they can engage in farming or cattle-rearing to help support the family – but now she can afford to buy grass to feed her cattle at home. 

Maryam Shantali, Cash Transfer Programme coordinator in Zamfara State, said, “Women are enthusiastic about the programme. It is helping them provide school materials for their children and in some cases income generating potential, generating small businesses and profits that can help retain the children in school when the programme ends. The small-scale businesses are empowering women, engendering livelihoods and changing lives”.

For Hadiza, with financial independence comes an improved relationship at home. “I no longer badger my husband for money for every little thing I want to buy. This makes him happy every day and our romantic relationship has improved tremendously,” she said with a straight face to the translator, trying hard not to smile.

But according to Hadiza, nothing will bring out her big smile more than the day her community members point in her direction and say, “There goes the mother of three university graduates, high-level civil servants and teachers”.

“I love teachers. I love teaching. Nothing will give me greater joy than to be identified as the mother of teachers,” she said, proudly.