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UNICEF social cash-transfer program in Malawi protects the most vulnerable households


By Victor Chinyama and Vivian Siu

© UNICEF Malawi /2010/Chagara
UNICEF Executive Director Lake talks to Clementina Siliyako, 17, and her brother Frank, 11, members of a child-headed household that is benefiting from the social cash-transfer program in Malawi.

MCHINJI, Malawi, 28 October 2010 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake recently concluded a two-day visit to Malawi, where he highlighted a cash-transfer program as an innovative way to help the poorest households – while simultaneously increasing school attendance – in order to end the cycle of poverty for future generations.

Through this social protection program, families whose adult members cannot work receive a monthly stipend to take care of their basic needs.

Mr. Lake said he was impressed by the resilience of the Malawian grandmothers and orphans he met, and stressed the importance of cash transfers in their daily lives.

“These grandmothers are not only able to buy food, clothes, soap and medicine for their grandchildren, they are also able to keep them in school,” he said at a press conference in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. “In all these ways, Malawi is working to help her neediest citizens, and in doing so, helping to build a stronger future for all of her people. We need to build on this progress, and I am confident that working together, we will.”

Reaching the most vulnerable


© UNICEF Malawi /2010/Chagara
Executive Director Anthony Lake talks to Lucia Penyani, 68, a widow and beneficiary of the social cash-transfer scheme in Mchinji, Malawi.

During his visit, Mr. Lake visited Lucia Penyani, 68, who has been raising her three young grandchildren since the death of her daughter in 2008.

Ms. Penyani receives a monthly grant of 2,000 Malawi kwacha (about $13) from the social cash-transfer program. With this money, she is able to buy basic necessities for her grandchildren. She has also been able to keep them in primary school. To supplement her income, Ms. Penyani grows maize on a 1.5-acre farm.

Poverty is widespread in Malawi. Nearly three-quarters of its population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Among the most affected are the children, including some 1.1 million orphans. Many of these children are either stunted or severely malnourished; as a result, they are less than other children likely to finish school. In addition, the absence of familial care and support makes them vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse, forced labour and trafficking.

Development, not charity

Malawi’s social cash-transfer program began as a pilot project in Mchinji district in 2006 and has since been extended to six other districts. To date, it has reached 28,000 households comprising 106,000 individuals, including 68,000 children.

The amount of each grant depends on family size, and there is additional funding for every child who attends school. The recipient households are considered to be the poorest of the poor and do not have family members who are able to work. Typically, these families are headed by the elderly, children or the chronically ill or disabled.

“It is obvious that this is not charity, it is development,” said Mr. Lake. “The people who are benefiting from this are unable to work and make money because they are either too old, too young or too sick.”

Achieving development goals

Mr. Lake also noted that while Malawi has made progress in reducing mortality among children under the age of five, the biggest remaining challenge is to reduce newborn and maternal deaths from preventable disease.

“Even if we achieve the goal of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds, children will still be dying,” he said. “Every child who dies is one child too many. We have to prevent these unnecessary deaths.”

Key donors to Malawi’s social cash-transfer program include the Global Fund ($5.4 million), UNICEF ($8 million), the Irish Government (€850,000) and the German Government (which has pledged a contribution of €13 million).

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230,
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806,