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3ie-LIDC Seminar Series - Can conditional cash transfers (CCTs) protect children's schooling when their father departs the household? Evidence from Colombia

Dr Alice Mesnard, Programme Director of the MSc Development Economics at City University London, a member of the Centre for the Evaluation of Development Policy (EDePo) at the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the European Development Research Network (EUDN) and a research affiliate of the CEPR, presented on the 11th October results of a study on conditional cash transfers (CCTs) as a potential strategy to ameliorate safety network policies around the world. In the case of rural Colombia, Dr Mesnard showed that the permanent departure of a father due to death or divorce entails substantial income loss for the very poor households under study  since the large majority of the leavers in the sample are young and working.

In order to investigate how permanent absence of the father affects children’s school enrolment and work participation in Colombia, she and her co-author, Emla Fitzsimons analyse data collected for the evaluation of a large-scale welfare program, Familias en Acción from 2002 to 2006. The program offered conditional cash transfers to improve schooling and child health to households in the lowest quintile of the household income distribution.

They find  that the absence of the father increases child paid work participation by around 3 percentage points. This comes from a decrease in school enrolment, by around 4 percentage points, both for girls and boys. They then show that receiving the CCTS offsets these adverse effects. This and other pieces of evidence they give strongly suggests that the channel through which departure affects children is through reducing income.

Dr Mesnard concluded arguing that conditional transfers may protect children from the permanent income losses entailed by the departure of a parent. Adverse effects on schooling and child labour can be mitigated by well-designed CCTs targeted at very poor households on a permanent basis, such as the "Familias en Acción" in Colombia. This is an important finding since permanent income losses are more difficult to insure against than transitory ones, in particular for the very poor who are unlikely to find formal and informal ways of insuring themselves against such vagaries.

Additional resources:
Download the presentation and the paper

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