Cash grants for food incentivize birth registrations

A cash grant programme to promote the purchase of nutritious food for children in the remote Karnali region of Mid-West Nepal increased birth registration by 300 percent in the past year, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The child grant programme, implemented by the government in October 2009, offers about US$2.75 each month to families with children under five throughout the five districts of Karnali, and also to poor Dalit families nationwide. Each family can receive up to two grants a month for their documented children.

Prior to the implementation of the programme in Karnali, only 20,896 children had birth certificates, now 85,624 children do.

Though generally not prioritized in Nepal, birth registration is important for children to begin to receive governmental support, from health care to education. Proving one's age without a birth certificate can be legally problematic, though citizenship is still possible without birth registration.

The spending of the money is not tracked, but whether or not families are buying leafy greens, the increase in birth registration is a by-product to boast about, Thakur Dhakal, social policy specialist at UNICEF, told IRIN in Kathmandu.

"Just having cash doesn't solve the problem of malnutrition," Thakur said. "These poor families might have another priority for the money - say a leak in the roof."

It is a condition of the grant that all mothers register their newborn children.


Some women in Urthu, a village in Jumla District, part of Karnali Zone where the government estimates more than half the children are chronically malnourished, told IRIN they had used the extra income to buy eggs and vegetables, but others said husbands were using the money for gambling or alcohol.

At the moment, mothers are receiving the grants in two or three lump sums per year, which might add to the temptation to spend the money elsewhere, aid workers say. "Some women say they have never held so much money at once in their life," Thakur said.

Birth registration is a priority for many international agencies working in Nepal, including UNICEF, Save the Children and Plan International.

While cash in hand is a great new incentive for parents to put their children on the books, in the past families were reluctant to spend the tiny sum it costs to register their newborn.

The process still requires awareness and convincing, said Kirti Thapa, programme manager for child protection and child rights governance for Save the Children in Nepal. Save the Children has focused on registration in Mugu, one of the five Karnali districts.

"We explain to people that birth registration is important for access to any basic service such as health and education," Thapa said. "It's even important when facing criminal charges, to prove the person should be tried as a child versus an adult."

In addition to the child grant programme, Save the Children has been mobilizing Hindu priests, who ceremoniously name babies on their ninth day, to also promote birth registration.