Conditional Cash Transfers in Peru: Tackling the Multi-Dimensionality of Childhood Poverty and Vulnerability

In the context of significant international attention on poverty reduction and realizing the Millennium Development Goals, social protection mechanisms are increasingly seen as an important policy tool to tackle poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion.2 Within the broad field of social protection, cash transfers are instruments attracting much interest and attention, and have been particularly pioneered in Latin America.58-esther Peru, recently followed the example of Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Honduras by launching its first conditional cash transfer program, Juntos (“Together”), in February 2005. By targeting poor children under the age of 14 years, the aim is to promote human capital development and to help break life-course and inter-generational transfers of poverty by facilitating households’ capacities to ensure children’s rights to adequate nutrition, healthcare and education. Initially the announcement sparked opposition from various societal stakeholders, largely in part due to then President Toledo’s low popularity rankings and suspicions that the program would be used for clientelistic purposes in the pre-election period leading up to April 2006 national elections. Specific concerns included the government’s plan to implement the program simultaneously in rural and urban areas, without having determined a clear targeting mechanism, and also a lack of involvement of key social and political actors represented in the country’s post-authoritarian National Accord. Some analysts also argued that existing social programs should be restructured rather than initiating a new program. The government, however, countered that such cash transfer programs—whereby mothers receive a regular cash payment on the condition that they ensure their children access public education and health services and avail themselves other child-focused social programs—have been successful internationally. 59-ninaperuMoreover, they argued that there was evidence to suggest that direct cash subsidies were more effective than food subsidies and entailed lower operational costs. Following a congressional recommendation, Juntos was placed under a directorate named by the national Roundtable for Poverty Reduction in order to guarantee the program’s neutrality and transparency, and to provide participation of the principle social sectors involved in shaping the direction of social policy. Juntos has since gained considerable legitimacy, due to a lack of politicization, a growing social consensus about the value of this innovative approach to social protection for the poorest emphasizing co-responsibility for social programs between citizens and the state, and the fact that the program is reaching some of the most vulnerable and marginalized segments of the population. In addition, there is recognition that Juntos is an attempt to address some of the particular vulnerabilities faced by populations that were most affected by the political violence (both by the Shining Path terrorist organization and state counter-terrorism) during the 1980s-2000. This paper discusses the development and implementation of Juntos in Peru to date, drawing on documentary analysis and fieldwork in Ayacucho Department, the first region in which the pilot phase of the program was implemented. We selected two communities based on the following criteria: a) overlap with the longitudinal international project, Young Lives, research sites and potential to follow up the impacts of social protection initiatives on children over time, b) geographical accessibility; and c) a significant proportion of the children from the community enrolled in the program. Based on this selection process, qualitative research involving key informant interviews and focus group discussions in the communities of Arizona and Rosapata was carried out in July/August 2006. The analysis pays particular attention to the impacts of the program on childhood poverty, the strengths and weaknesses of a conditional approach, and changes in intra-household and community dynamics—both intended and unintended. It concludes by discussing future policy challenges and directions for future research. By Nicola Jones, Rosana Vargas and Eliana Villar, February 2007 Chapter in Alberto Minujin et al. (ed.) 2007. Social Protection Initiatives for Families, Women and Children: An Analysis of Recent Experiences. New York: New School and UNICEF.

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