by Prof. T.V. Shekhar
The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) mechanism is a marked departure from traditional approaches in social programming. Through provision of financial incentives to poor families following the fulfillment of certain verifiable conditions, CCTs seek to provide short-term income support and also promote long term behavioural change. CCTs therefore have the potential to become an effective way of targeting resources for the poor and socially disadvantaged sections; more specifically, girls and women.
With persisting gender inequalities in India, the girl child is at a disadvantage and faces discrimination at every stage of her life- sex selection, infanticide, little or no access to education, lack of health care and nutrition, and child marriage, which CCTs hope to correct.
Conditional cash transfer schemes for girls
In order to improve the survival and welfare of girls and reverse the distorted sex ratio at birth (SRB), both the national and the state governments have launched special financial incentive schemes for girls. Under these schemes, families have to comply with certain minimum requirements such as registration of births, childhood immunization, enrollment in school, retention in school and delaying age at marriage beyond 18 years to receive the specified financial incentives against fulfillment of each of these conditions. These incentive schemes have been aimed at improving the value of the girl child with the premise that financial benefits would trigger behavioural changes among parents and community and this will go a long way in ensuring the survival and well-being of girls. Though most of these schemes are good steps in the right direction, very little is known about their implementation and effectiveness. Through a desk-review and interaction with government officials, program managers and NGOs, we did a study examining the operational aspects of fifteen selected girl child promotion schemes across the states and gathered first impressions regarding the performance of these schemes.
The schemes selected for secondary review are Dhan Laxmi Scheme of Government of India, Ladli Scheme of Delhi, Ladli Lakmi Yojana of MP , Bhagyalakshmi Scheme of Karnataka , Balri Rakshak Yojana in Punjab, Ladli Scheme of Haryana, Kanyadan scheme of Madhya Pradesh, Girl Child Protection Scheme in AP, Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yojna in HP, Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Yojana of Bihar, Rajalakshmi scheme in Rajasthan (discontinued), Balika Samrudhi Yojana in Gujarat and HP, Kunwarbainu Mameru scheme in Gujarat, Beti Hai Anmol Scheme in Himachal Pradesh (initiated in 2010) and Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana of Bihar.
Objectives of the schemes
Most of these schemes are administered through the Department of Women and Child Development using the vast network of ICDS and Anganwadi workers. Two schemes under review are sponsored by the Department of Health and Family Welfare in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Dhan Laxmi is the only scheme that is fully supported by the Government of India and is implemented on a pilot basis in selected twelve blocks of seven states.
The primary objective of schemes differs – from ensuring birth to birth and family planning, to promoting delayed marriage or education and overall well-being of girls. Some of these schemes are specifically aimed at people belonging to the poor families (BPL category). There are few schemes open to all categories of households irrespective of their education, income levels and caste. Dhan Laxmi is the only scheme that provides incentive to all girls born in the family. Most states restrict incentives to up to two girls, with single girl families receiving a larger benefit than two-girl families.
What we found
- There is a need to simplify the eligibility criteria and conditionalities, and also the procedures of registration under schemes. Though huge amounts of money have been spent year after year in promoting these schemes, there is limited monitoring and hardly any grievance redressal mechanism in place.
- In some states, lack of coordination across different sectors- health, education, and social welfare- is adversely affecting the program implementation. The implementing officers complain that they are not getting the necessary support from other agencies, resulting in delays and difficulties. Lack of coordination between implementing departments and financial institutions (LIC, UTI, Banks, etc) also led to delays in issuing bonds/certificates in some states and opening zero balance accounts.
- In most of these schemes, the involvement of local Panchayats (PRIs), NGOs, and women’s groups is very limited. According to some NGOs, PRIs may be in a better position to identify the beneficiaries, monitor the progress of implementation and ensure timely transfer of funds.
- The guidelines for implementation are not clearly understood in many cases and staff are not oriented on different aspects of the schemes, as mentioned by some of the state-level officials.
Reflections and recommendations
Financial constraints should not come in the way: Girl child promotion schemes could potentially have far reaching implications in enhancing the value of the girl child and therefore financial constraints should not come in the way of their implementation. The study found that the promise of cash transfers provided a sense of security and confidence in families to invest in girls. Wherever benefits were availed families did ensure birth registration, immunization, school enrolment, and delayed age at marriage of their girls, to a large extent. It may be appropriate to consider a proposal wherein both the centre and the state governments jointly finance these schemes with better targeting and attractive incentives. Especially, schemes aimed at improving the value of the girl child and addressing sex ratio decline may not meet these objectives in their entirety if they target only BPL families, as the ratios are adverse across different economic classes.
Simplify the scheme: Schemes such as Dhan Lakshmi and Bhagyalakshmi can be simplified for operational purpose by cutting down on the number of conditionalities attached with various levels of immunization and school attendance, as with every conditionality the beneficiaries have to also fulfill the documentation and certification formalities to provide proof of fulfillment. Likewise, domicile certificate is mandatory for many schemes and poor migrant families are likely to be excluded from the schemes. Inflexibility in 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 registration of girl child within a year of birth.
Focus on one outcome: It is interesting to note that most state governments took pride in implementing the schemes and publicizing them as one of their biggest achievements. It was also felt that enhancing the cash incentives, simplifying the registration procedures and perhaps minimizing the number of conditionalities will make the schemes more attractive. The multiplicity of outcomes expected to be achieved by a single scheme, is likely to lead to a somewhat diffused focus in achieving the original objective behind the provision of incentives – change in perceived value of daughters in the eyes of the family.
Take another look at targetting: It is critical to revisit targeting under these incentive schemes based on an understanding of the perception of value of the incentive by different income groups. Even for not so affluent households, the more immediate perceived benefit from not having a daughter may appear more tangible than the final benefit which will accrue after their daughter turns 18. It is not clear yet whether these incentives ensure that girls survive once born and receive better care and attention or the benefits also ensure their birth itself. Again, by limiting the benefit to two girls or by providing a larger incentive for the first girl, the scheme inadvertently ends up valuing girls differently depending on their position in the birth order. The eligibility criteria therefore potentially may lead to mixed perceptions about the intent of the scheme.
Though CCTs offer governments the scope to positively discriminate in favour of girls, it is not clear how far CCTs have led to a change in parental preferences and attitudes towards girls. This desk review has helped to highlight the operational challenges in implementation of various schemes. However, the effectiveness and impact of schemes towards ensuring desirability of daughters cannot yet be established. Going deeper with the analysis will also enable addressing certain unanswered questions on family perceptions of the scheme. For example, perceptions regarding linkage between incentives with family planning, differential incentives for the first and the second daughter, marriage incentive and whether it helps to value delayed marriage or only offsets marriage costs. Most importantly, such an analysis needs to help establish whether CCTs in the long run lead to change in the attitude and treatment of daughters.
The report of the first phase of the study is available on UNFPA website:
Dr. T. V. Shekar is a professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS)
The study on CCTs for the girl child was commissioned by UNFPA at the request of the Planning Commission of India.