Gov’t pays parents P300 each to keep kids in school

By Jocelyn Uy
Last updated 03:05am (Mla time) 07/01/2007

MANILA, Philippines—Poor parents will soon have a very compelling reason to take their children to school everyday.


A child who logs perfect or at least 85 percent class attendance in a month will get P300 for the family.


Here’s another come on: A trip to the health center every month would add P500 to the household kitty.


Taking a leaf from several countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia, the Department of Social Welfare and Development will pilot the first conditional cash transfer (CCT) program in the country, starting October this year.


The monetary incentives will be offered to families belonging to the “poorest of the poor,” in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy in the country, said Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral in a press briefing on Thursday.


A family will receive the P300 monthly allowance for each child—either in elementary or high school—who is able to complete at least 17 school days in a month. At least three children per household could avail themselves of the program.


A family could make as much as P900 a month, excluding the P500 they could get for availing themselves of vaccinations and other services in a nearby health center.


Overall, a household could earn a total P15,000 annually—decent enough for basic household needs—and hopefully, incentive enough for parents to keep their kids in school instead of enlisting them to work at home or in the fields.


Although a first in the country, the scheme has long been adopted in developing countries like Colombia, Mexico and Indonesia.


The World Bank, which is providing the technical assistance to the DSWD, explained in the website Wikepedia, that conditional cash transfers provide money directly to poor families through a “social contract” or “conditionalities” which promote long-term investments in “human capital.”


The DSWD decided to try the program after learning about it during a global conference on development held in Turkey in August last year, said Undersecretary Luwalhati Pablo in a phone interview with the Inquirer.


“When we came back, we started talking about it and we thought of including it as part of the social reform program we are undertaking,” she said.


Early this month, Pablo and four other welfare officials, accompanied by two staff from the World Bank, flew to Colombia to learn the mechanics of the program.


Colombia first launched the CCT scheme as a long-term program seven years ago when majority of its children were malnourished and out of school, Pablo related. The program now caters to 700,000 poor families.


Pablo said the DSWD plans to run the poverty reduction program for at least three years or until 2010. By that time, they expect to see discernible improvements in at least 300,000 poor families nationwide.


Shoestring budget


Immediately, the assistance will provide a 20-percent [increase] in the annual income of a family living below the poverty threshold. With this, “they may not need to use their children for labor and may be able to provide the means to send them to school,” she told reporters.


But due to a shoestring budget, the department will have to limit its beneficiaries.


Based on a 2006 report of the National Statistical Coordination Board, the poverty threshold for a family of five is P6,211 monthly or P204 daily.


“We have to identify the poorest of the poor because the budget is not enough to cover everybody. We have to have a very good targeting mechanism so that we could look after the people who are most deserving,” Cabral said.


The department has earmarked P75 million for the initial phase of the program, piloting it in Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental (or Misamis Occidental) and the cities of Pasay and Caloocan in Metro Manila by October this year.


Roughly 20,000 families from these areas will benefit from the program, Cabral said.


Families identified


“Poor families have already been identified and a monitoring system has already been established in these areas,” she noted.


The department will allot P200 million to P300 million next year when the scheme has been replicated in more impoverished areas in the country, she added.


Cabral said that they have already considered facilitating the distribution of the monthly allowance via the mobile phone fund transfer. But in far-flung areas where there are no cellular sites, the banking system will be utilized.


“We are also trying to adapt to modern technology in providing them assistance,” Cabral said.


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