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Early successes of Argentina’s cash transfer programme

Nearly two years after Argentina’s cash transfer programme went into effect (in December 2009), many schools are talking about the positive impact of the ‘Universal Child Allowance’ (AUH) and increases in enrolment of children at primary school. However, drop-out rates in Argentina’s secondary schools remain high and organisers of the programme admit other measures are required to encourage older pupils to stay on in education.

Under the AUH programme, cash transfers are provided as a child benefit payment to households with low income. This includes families where adults are unemployed or work in low-paid jobs such as domestics or in the informal economy. Low-income families receive a monthly payment of around 55 dollars per child (up to a maximum of five children under 18 years), with the amount for disabled children four times higher. 

Though the scheme is not currently ‘universal’, since around 2.8 million children and teenagers are not covered, over 3.6 million youngsters benefit from the family allowance. And already, the AUH programme is credited with cutting poverty levels; independent studies in Argentina suggest cases of extreme poverty have been reduced by between 55 and 70 per cent.

As with similar schemes in other Latin American countries, payments are conditional on children attending school (as well as being taken for medical check-ups and vaccinations). This means that even the poorest parents are more likely to enrol their children. Once the children are ‘in the system’, it is easier for schools to follow up with families if youngsters miss classes. Schools are also expected to submit monthly reports about attendance levels to the education ministry. This helps to ensure follow-ups where pupils are regularly absent from school. Experience shows that families are also more likely to become involved in their children’s education and even make voluntary payments towards building repairs or school materials.

But though primary schools have witnessed significant changes in attitudes towards education, it is still proving hard to keep children in secondary school. Despite the extra allowance for families, some Argentine teenagers decide they would rather go out to try to earn money, than stay on in their studies. Some in the education sector suggest that tutoring programmes and teachers spending more time in schools could help build the personal relationships required to persuade teenagers to stay on at school. Nevertheless, with more involvement in the welfare of children from schools and parents, experts agree that the AUH programme has already been a success in helping some of the poorest and previously most marginalised families.

Laurinda Luffman signature