A study questions the efficacy of conditional cash transfer schemes in promoting the girl child.
IN an attempt to address some of the serious imbalances in society, specifically the gender imbalance, the Central and State governments have embarked on several short-term conditional cash transfer (CCT) schemes in the past decade and a half. While the Central government is convinced about the efficacy of the schemes aimed at arresting the distorted sex ratio at birth and improving the survival of girls through a system of incentives, many analysts find the concept repugnant and without any transformative effect in society.
Interestingly, a study by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), done in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund for the Planning Commission as an input to the Twelfth Plan process, has pointed out several pitfalls in such schemes. An evaluation by T.V. Sekher of the IIPS of 15 girl-child-specific schemes throws light on the various aspects of the schemes, the perception of the beneficiaries, and the overall administrative response. The CCT provides short-term cash benefits to the poor on the condition that they adopt certain behavioural changes in the long run. It is seen as a measure to channel resources to poor families over a period of time. In operation for several years in many Latin American countries, the concept of CCT in the promotion of the girl child is relatively new in India. The concept operates on the condition that in order to receive the financial incentive, families have to commit to behavioural changes such as birth registration, enrolling children in schools and maintaining adequate attendance levels, getting prenatal and post-natal health care treatment, immunisation, and delaying the age of marriage beyond 18 years.
The study showed that overall because of the myriad conditions attached to the schemes, often linking the latter with family planning targets and terminal methods of sterilisation, the schemes did not quite achieve their lofty objectives. The bureaucracy and the paperwork involved made the beneficiaries cynical. Clearly, if the CCT was meant to induce long-term behavioural changes, they were not going to happen with a set of frugal incentives contingent on families accessing hard-to-access government entitlements, overcoming increased bureaucratisation and meeting conditions relating to the small-family norm.
The majority of the schemes were found to be administered through the various departments of women and child welfare in the States and, more specifically, through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Information about the schemes was disseminated through anganwadi workers. The overall objective of the CCT in schemes relating to girl children ranged from promoting the birth of the girl child, delayed marriage, education and family planning. Interestingly, barring the Central government's Dhana Lakshmi scheme, which covers all the girl children in a family, all the schemes operational in the States restrict the incentives to either one or two girl children. Single-girl child families receive larger benefits compared with those with two girls. Such state-sponsored discrimination negates the thrust on encouraging the birth of a girl child. Again, the intensive targeting on the basis of the below poverty line category also reduces the impact as the cohort that discriminates against the girl child through selective abortions certainly does not belong to the BPL category, which cannot not afford such tests.
The study found that while the promise of cash transfers did give a sense of security and instilled a sense of confidence in the families to invest in girls, the targeting of BPL families may not meet the objectives as adverse ratios cut across different economic classes. The approach itself was fallacious; the administrative glitches and the lack of coordination between the implementing departments and financial institutions were another story. The author says: It is not clear how far conditional cash transfers have led to a change in parental preferences and attitudes towards daughters. This desk review has helped to highlight the operational challenges in the implementation of various schemes. The effectiveness and impact of the schemes towards ensuring desirability of daughters cannot be fully established.
The study pointed out that the majority was in favour of simplification of the schemes to further enhance their usefulness and reach. For example, schemes such as Dhana Lakshmi and Bhagyalakshmi in Karnataka could be simplified for operational purposes by cutting down on the number of conditions attached with various levels of immunisation and school attendance. According to the study, With every conditionality, the beneficiaries have to fulfil the documentation and certification formalities to provide the proof of fulfilment. Likewise, domicile certificate is mandatory for many schemes, and poor migrant families are likely to be excluded from these schemes. Inflexibility in the timing of joining the scheme is also a major deterrent for availing benefits among the illiterate families. Barring Ladli Scheme (Delhi) all the other schemes insist on the registration of the girl child within a year of birth.
The author explained that it was not clear whether these incentives ensured that girls survived after birth and received better care or if the benefits ensured their birth itself. By limiting the benefit to two girls or by providing a larger incentive for the first girl, the scheme inadvertently ended up valuing girls differentially depending on their position in the birth order. The eligibility criteria, therefore, could lead to mixed perceptions about the intent of the scheme, he surmised.REVERSE DISCRIMINATION
Clearly, there are problems. Some of the schemes have been in force for nearly two decades. The problem is in the approach. To assume that a mere cash flow to a family will make the girl child wanted is not working. In Himachal Pradesh, for instance, the Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yojana, launched in 2007 with the objectives of improving the deteriorating sex ratio, encouraging the small-family norm and promoting gender equality, is meant for couples who adopt a permanent method of family planning after having one girl child or two girl children. There should not be any male child. The eligible couples have to submit an affidavit attested by an executive magistrate stating that they have only one female child or two female children and have no male child at the time of accepting the terminal sterilisation method. This is reverse discrimination. The government is creating a new mindset among the people. State governments, on the other hand, take pride in publicising the schemes as major achievements.
Another drawback, according to the study, is the multiplicity of outcomes. There are too many targets to be achieved through the CCT. Although unstated, family planning is one of the key objectives. The focus on increasing the value of daughters in the family is synonymous with increasing the value of the small family. Sekher's study is not entirely against cash transfers though he brings out all the inherent limitations in the present approach. He argues that simplifying registration procedures, enhancing cash incentives and minimising the number of conditions will make them more attractive. He recommends a detailed independent evaluation covering the beneficiaries and the key stakeholders of eight schemes the Dhana Lakshmi Scheme, the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (Madhya Pradesh), the Bhagyalakshmi Scheme (Karnataka), the Balika Samriddhi Yojana (Gujarat), the Ladli Scheme (Delhi), the Ladli Scheme (Haryana), the Girl Child Protection Scheme (Andhra Pradesh) and the Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana (Bihar).DRAWBACKS
The IIPS study found many drawbacks in the 15 schemes. The achievement of targets and the utilisation of allotted funds in the first two years of the Central government-supported Dhana Lakshmi scheme, initiated in 2008 in seven States, showed that the scheme was not successful. While the targeted beneficiaries for the year 2008-09 were one lakh girls, the actual number of beneficiaries enrolled under the scheme was only 79,555. Of the allotted Rs.10 crore, only Rs.5.95 crore was spent in the course of the year. The utilisation of allotted funds is not satisfactory even during the second year, it observed.
There were too many conditions as well, the study noted. In the Bhagyalakshmi scheme, 3 per cent of the beneficiaries belonged to the above-poverty-line categories, which was in violation of the stipulated norms. In the Ladli scheme, touted as one of the more successful ones, it was noticed that many eligible parents were not able to register owing to lack of relevant documents. The Madhya Pradesh scheme linked the benefit to the small-family norm, and people were found to be suspicious about the benefits promised. In Haryana, deaths of girls were not reported by the parents, the study said. To what extent the Ladli scheme helps arrest the skewed child sex ratio (CSR) in that State remains to be seen. In Rajasthan, the Rajalakshmi scheme was discontinued because of poor implementation and for other reasons. In Gujarat, the study found that the implementation of the Balika Samriddhi Yojana had overburdened the ICDS and anganwadi workers. The post-birth grant, at Rs.500, is a pittance. In Punjab, one of the States with a low CSR, the Rakshak Yojana, launched in 2005 with a lot of publicity, has very few beneficiaries. The study found that up to March 2010, there were only 306 beneficiaries under the scheme.
The incentives offered by the schemes under review are paltry, according to the study. Where they are linked to the girl attaining 18 years, the matter of the state helping with the marriage expenses is a problematic one in itself. The Kanyadaan-based schemes have not been viewed as progressive by various sections. The Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Yojana in Bihar, launched in 2008 by the President of India for empowering women by financially supporting the marriages of girls belonging to economically disadvantaged families, makes a mockery of the idea of empowerment itself.
Interviews with some of the beneficiaries of the scheme revealed that there were considerable delays in receiving the amount. Some stated that they had to bribe the officials. Others said that the amount of money was not significant and therefore the financial assistance was not perceived as attractive. The study observed that the scheme supported the marriage expenses of many poor families. But, more importantly, it encouraged the registration of marriages.
What emerged from the study is that while some schemes provide incentives only if the couple accept sterilisation after two children, others limit the incentive to two girls, with a larger incentive for the first one. The study surmised that clearly, the intention behind some of the schemes is also to ensure smaller families and promote family planning alongside ensuring the birth of girls.
In most of the schemes, the beneficiaries can avail themselves of the terminal benefits only when the girl completes 18 years of age and is unmarried. The percentage of girls marrying under 18 is still rather high despite the implementation of these schemes. Likewise, there has not been much improvement in the various preconditions attached to the cash transfers, such as birth registration, institutional delivery, childhood immunisation, school enrolment, completion of school education, delaying of marriage until 18 years of age and parents accepting sterilisation after a maximum of two children. The other issues relating to administrative failures pertaining to the CCT are only secondary. The conditional approach only adds to the general administrative lethargy and indifference. The report found that some families appreciated the government's efforts to offset the liabilities in educating and marrying off girls.
If the basic philosophy of these schemes is to promote birth and survival of girl children, particularly from poor families, why restrict the benefits to only one or two girls? the study asks. It is possible, Sekher writes, that many poor families with strong son preference and who have only daughters (often more than two) are unlikely to be enrolled under the scheme.
The study has raised several important points which women's organisations and health groups have empathised with. For one, the linkage of family planning with girl-child promotion schemes has always been problematic. The acceptance of the terminal method of family planning is one of the eligibility criteria under many schemes. While the CCT scheme cannot be a panacea to alleviate poverty or promote the girl child as it fundamentally lacks a strong progressive and transformative element, the study underscores the conceptual limitation facing government policies.
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