Monday, February 21, 2011

Child cash benefit programs in Argentina

Argentina produces plenty of enough food to feed all of its people. They produce so much that everyone could be fed 10 times over. Still, over 750,000 Argentinian children are malnourished.

A cash transfer program has just started in Argentina and social experts are debating its effects. Some question if it has helped to reduce child malnutrition, or if the program needs to be extended to help more.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Marcela Valente takes a look at the cash transfer program in Argentina.

A little more than a year after the creation of a cash transfer programme to poor families with children under 18, experts are debating the reach, positive impacts and limitations of the subsidy.

The universal child benefit, which went into effect in December 2009, provides a monthly payment of 220 pesos (55 dollars) per child to parents who are unemployed, work in the informal economy or are domestic workers -- in other words, all parents who do not have access to the government's family allowance scheme that already covered workers in the formal economy.

The benefit, which reaches 3.5 million children, is conditional on school attendance and regular medical check-ups and vaccinations.

A family can receive the subsidy for up to five children -- an amount that is close to the official minimum monthly wage.

However, the plan is not actually universal: 2.8 million children and teenagers are not covered by it, for different reasons.

Sociologist Gabriela Agosto, director of the Asociación Civil Observatorio Social, told IPS that the universal child benefit "is an incentive for education and health care, but does not substantially modify access to food.

"The benefit generates a transfer of income, but in and of itself it does not correct a key deficit, child malnutrition, because chronic poverty cannot be turned around with this alone: targeted policies are needed," she said.

Agosto referred to the cases of severe malnutrition and even deaths among indigenous children that are periodically reported in provinces in northern Argentina like Salta, Formosa, Chaco and Misiones, the country's poorest provinces.

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