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Anti-poverty programmes and children’s development:
A Mexican – South African dialogue

26 May 2005

Holiday Inn, Strand Street, Cape Town

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Following SARPN's seminar held in November 2004 at which Paul J. Gertler and Lia C. Fernald presented their paper on "The Medium Term Impact of Oportunidades on Child Development in Rural Areas" there has been consistent interest in the social security networks that exist in Mexico.

With the support of the Mexican embassy in Pretoria SARPN hosted a follow up discussion with the Mexican Deputy Minister of Social Development. Deputy Minister Szekely provided a very clear overview of the process of Opportunidades. This included the criteria to access the grants and the requirements placed on families to maintain the grants. There are approximately one million families in Mexico that currently access the grants.

The Department of Social Development was unfortunately not able to present a comparable overview of the process of social grants, but rather presented a general overview of the work of the department in the Western Cape. The presentation touched on the constitutional provisions that protected children.

The discussion was held in partnership with the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town. Solange Rosa of the Institute presented research conducted on the targeting of children's social grants in South Africa, as a comparative to the Mexican system. The presentation touched on the needs of children in South Africa and the challenges they face with regards to accessing social grants. Rosa voiced concern of the introduction of an incentive based system of social assistance.

A informative and vibrant discussion session was held following the presentations and is documented below.

Copies of all the presentations have been placed on the SARPN website for ease of access.


Chair: Murray Leibbrant, Economics Department, University of Cape Town

Question and Answer Session following the presentations

Does the Oppotunidades programme in a sense assume that poor people will be irresponsible with their money?
Dr. SzР№kely - There have been many studies on the effects of conditionality model. University College, London has found that with no conditionality levels of attendance and general schooling is considerably lower. It is more a matter of how you phrase the question. It can been seen in one perspective as being dictatorial but the other side could quite easily reflect the programme as providing incentives to families.

Are the good outcomes from the programme because of the conditionality itself? What are the variables for success and failures?
Dr. SzР№kely - The factors that led to the success of the programme, have been two fold: Firstly, the inclusion of women which is extremely problematic in Latin America generally, and secondly the issue of conditionality to access the grant. A study conducted in Brazil after they had relaxed the conditionality clauses of their programme, showed that the programme had in fact merely turned into a cash hand-out system. Women and conditionality need to be included in the programme to guarantee success.

Is there any plan to counter- balance the increased focus on girls in education?
Dr. SzР№kely - The focus on girls attendance in school has only recently shown success and therefore the Mexican government is not too concerned about the marginalization of boys in schools. Mexico has only recently closed the gap on gender inequality and this has yet to be internalized in the Mexican culture.

Household stability is problematic as mobility is very high in South Africa. How is this handled in Mexico?
Dr. SzР№kely - In Mexico household mobility is lower as there is an incentive to keep the child at home in order to gain the grant, but in general it is a very different situation to South Africa.

South African has existing policies that would enable many of these services, but they are not effectively implemented. How do Departments work together and how is political will mobilized?
Dr. SzР№kely - Political dimensions: the key player in the programme is the inclusion of the Finance Ministry. The Finance Ministry, Health and Social Development all sit together on a panel that shares the responsibility of the programme. Specific budgets are committed to Opportunidades and they cannot be used for anything else without the permission of the department of finance. But this can still be problematic when departments have emergencies or other priorities and want to utilize the money set aside for Opportunidades. The Finance Ministry keeps tight control of this. There are still problems as the programme is housed within the Department of Social Development. The important element is to maintain a balance and the need to share the political gains of the programme between all the players.

What is the drop out rate of families from the programme namely those who fail to meet the programme's conditionalities?
Dr. SzР№kely - The drop out numbers are small and focused on new families. The self selection of families influences the drop out rates. But they are less than 14% of the beneficiaries.

How do you deal with addictions such as alcoholism in parents?
Dr. SzР№kely - There are no programmes within the Opportunidades to deal with drugs and alcoholism. The other problem is domestic violence as well as other demands. But there is a need to keep the focus of the program and not dilute it with addiction issues.

Dr. SzР№kely went on to include one of the more interesting findings from the research conducted on the effects of the Opportunidades programme. There has been a substantial effect on women making financial transactions through the banking system. The savings account has resulted in increased awareness of savings. Studies have shown that after one year of having the bank accounts women begin making deposits into the accounts as opposed to just taking the money straight out when it was received from Opportunidades. Gertler's study shows that investments are being made with the money. The women save up their money and buy a communal washing machine or other appliances which then frees up women to pursue other activities.

What is the cost of the programme?
Dr. SzР№kely - Costs: In Mexico, the Opportunidades programme implementation is approximately 5% of the total budget.

Ms. Follentine - in the Western Cape Dept of Social Development noted that the department spends approximately R42 billion rand on expenditure of grants and of that R11 million is used for implementation (approximately 0.2% of the budget).

What has been the role of the Catholic Church with regards to the programme and the family planning training which the women undergo?
Dr. SzР№kely - Contraceptive training for women is given every month. The Church has not been an issue in the programme.

What has been the response of the people that were taken off the programme?
Dr. SzР№kely - The programme was designed for 3 years only. There is an evaluation that happens every 3 years and there are three options for the programme: Firstly the family can stay in the programme; secondly, where there is a more than average improvement in the situation of the family the food support is the only grant which is removed; and lastly if the situation of the family has vastly improved which is to date very few families, this remains an unresolved question in the programme. Therefore Mexico has to think of ways to deal with the long term in which people can come in and out of the programme and their status can be flexible.

Murray Leibbrant concluded the dialogue by highlighting the encouragement he felt in hearing of the progress of the Opportunidades programme but acknowledged that there still remain political challenges such as the necessary compromises that are needed to establish a programme such as the Opportunidades.

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