Kenya

Cash transfers for vulnerable children in Kenya: From political choice to scale-up

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During the course of the Kenya 2002 parliamentary elections, UNICEF launched a media campaign advocating for the removal of primary school fees and for a cash child benefit targeted towards the poorest families. The first major policy change made by the incoming Government of Kenya, within days of taking power, was to make primary school free. The Government also opened up space to discuss the introduction of a child benefit. UNICEF supported discussions around what it would cost to apply a child benefit in a number of different arenas, notably the newly set up parliamentary orphans and vulnerable children committee. UNICEF also supported a small-scale pre-pilot programme to support the policy debate and provided a first-hand look at what a cash transfer programme meant in practice, in testing existing capacities for implementation, and in applying lessons for future scale-up. The test areas in three very different parts of Kenya - poor urban, pastoralist, and low income, high HIV-rate agricultural - proved useful in showcasing the concept and for learning lessons for scale-up, and supported decisions to move to a full-scale pilot programme.

A crucial lesson learned from the reviews around the pre-pilot was the importance of investing more resources in capacity building and targeting to ensure the most vulnerable children are indeed the ones enrolled into the programme. Successful engagement with politicians and policy dialogue around the pre-pilot resulted in pressure to expand the programme perhaps faster than good-quality capacity could be built to manage a high-quality programme. The result was a decision to scale up along two tracks: Track one, with an expanded full-scale pilot programme in seven districts in which different programme models would be evaluated for merit (conditional versus non-conditional programmes) and where innovations such as a computerized management information system and cash transfers via the post office would be tested, including active realtime improvements of targeting mechanisms. And track two, in which the pre-pilot model would be expanded by the Government with less support from international partners but with pilot programme innovations migrating over when possible.

The pilot programme evaluation will report its results in 2010, comparing baseline data collected in 2007 with the results of a follow-up survey to be conducted in 2009. In the meantime, the full programme (track one and track two) has expanded to 75,000 households in 2009 in 47 districts and is expected to reach an estimated 125,000 households in 2013, mainly due to increasing budget allocations from the Kenyan treasury and expansions in human capacity at the Children's Department earmarked for the programme.

Early in 2009, the World Bank joined the programme with an International Development Association (IDA) loan of US$50 million dollars to help accelerate expansion and consolidate the capacity elements required to maintain the programme at national scale. As of mid-2009, the largest financial contributor to the programme remains the Kenyan taxpayer. Despite contractions to the economy - caused by the global slowdown and the aftermath of the 2008 post-election violence, and reducing tax receipts in the short term - the principle that cash benefits for the most vulnerable young citizens is something that defines the Kenyan State now seems on the way to being assured.