Absence of conflict of interest.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of unconditional cash transfers on child labor and school attendance in Malawi and Zambia. This summary focuses on the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Program.
- The study used a randomized controlled trial to compare outcomes between children in households that received the cash transfer with children in households that did not.
- The study found children in the treatment group were less likely to work for pay outside of the household, had less time spent in paid work, were more likely to attend school, but had an increase in hazardous work than children in the control group; these findings were statistically significant.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that any estimated effects are attributable to the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Program and not to other factors.
Features of the Intervention
Piloted in 2006, the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Program (SCTP) was an unconditional cash transfer program designed to reduce poverty and hunger and increase school enrollment. Households received a monthly cash transfer dependent upon household size and number of children attending primary or secondary school; the average amount received was equivalent to $35 USD (25,622 MKW) per month. The program was expanded in 2009 and reached 170,000 "ultra-poor" households in 18 districts by 2015. To be eligible, households needed to have a 3:1 ratio of people who could not work to those who could and had a low enough score on the Proxy Means Test (an indicator of poverty).
Features of the Study
The study was a randomized controlled trial. The authors randomly selected 29 village clusters to be included in the study, from four Traditional Authorities in the districts of Salima and Mangochi. They randomly assigned half of the villages to the treatment group who could receive the cash transfer, and half to the control group who could only receive the cash transfer after the study was complete.
Baseline survey data collection occurred between July and September 2013; follow-up survey data were collected from October to November 2015. At baseline, the study included 3,531 households and 6,726 children, who were 6-15 years old. At the two-year follow-up, the sample size was 5,803 children. The authors did not provide separate sample sizes for the treatment and control groups. However, they note that the difference in attrition rates was not statistically significant.
Child labor outcomes included participation in and the number of hours spent on economic activities (farming, livestock herding, working in the family business, and paid work outside the household) and household chores (collecting water/firewood, taking care of children, cooking or cleaning, and taking care of sick or elderly household members). The authors also assessed the program’s effect on participation in hazardous work and excessive hours of work in the week prior to the interview (defined as 28 or more hours in household chores or more than one hour spent in an economic activity for children aged 5-11, more than 14 hours spent in an economic activity for children aged 12-14, or more than 43 hours spent in an economic activity for children aged 15-17). The authors used statistical models to assess the impact of the program, controlling for age and gender.
- The study found that children in treatment villages were significantly less likely to work for pay outside of the household when compared to children in control villages (6 percentage points). However, program participants were significantly more likely to work in agriculture and livestock herding.
- The study found that the SCTP significantly decreased the time spent in paid work by 0.5 hours a week and significantly increased the time spent livestock herding by 0.1 hours per week for children in the treatment group versus the control group.
- Compared to children in control villages, the study found that children in treatment villages were significantly more likely to collect water or firewood (10 percentage points) and take care of children, cook, or clean (9 percentage points).
- The study found that the SCTP significantly increased the likelihood of being engaged in hazardous work by five percentage points for children in the treatment villages compared to children in the control villages. This included carrying heavy loads, working with dangerous tools, exposure to dust, fumes, or gas, and exposure to extreme heat, cold, or humidity.
Education (School participation/enrollment)
- The study found that children in the treatment villages were significantly more likely to attend school than children in the control group (eight percentage points).
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The process for household selection differed in the two districts across Malawi. All of the eligible households in Salima were included in the study whereas a random sample of households were selected in Mangochi.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Program (SCTP) and not to other factors.