The period of pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical for his or her future development. If they do not receive adequate nutrition during this time, they will be set back for the rest of their lives. They will by physically stunted with their cognitive development undermined. No country that wishes to develop can avoid ensuring that its youngest children receive a good start in life and that all possible measures are put in place to provide for their adequate nutrition.
Although Bangladesh has made good progress in reducing levels of child under-nutrition over the past 20 years, it is still unacceptably high with 39 percent of young children stunted as of 2013. Tackling under-nutrition requires a complex multi-sectoral approach but it is evident that low income is a key cause of under-nutrition. Poor families are unable to provide mothers and young children with an adequate diet, having to depend on low cost foods of dubious nutritional value. There is good evidence from around the world that the provision of a child benefit can significantly improve nutritional outcomes in young children.
Therefore, the Government has decided to prioritise support to young children up to the age of four years, through a large extension of current support by establishing a groundbreaking scheme known as the Child Benefit. This will build on the success of the current Maternal Allowance Programme for the Lactating Mother and provide a transfer to around half of all children aged 04 years, who belong to the poor and vulnerable group. The programme will commence with a monthly transfer of Tk.800 to each child that will be paid to the mother or female care-giver (although a male care-giver will be eligible if no female is available)5. Each mother will receive the transfer for up to two children to ensure that no incentives for higher fertility are established.
It is expected that the proportion of young children in the population will drop dramatically over the next 20 years: currently around 10 percent of the population is aged 0-4 years and the proportion will fall to around 7 percent by 2030. As a result, in coming years, the Government expects to be able to increase both the benefit’s age of eligibility. Therefore, in 2020, as part of the review of the NSPS, the Government will assess progress with the Child Benefit and propose revisions to the age of eligibility and level of transfer.
While income transfer will be of critical help, the Government recognises that a wide range of other interventions to support pregnant women, young children and their mothers are needed in order to eradicate under-nutrition. This will include an expansion of support through the health system, a more effective programme of health promotion – including to girls in secondary school – and improvements in water and sanitation. In the health sector, the Government will continue to explore the potential for strengthening initiatives to provide therapeutic feeding to the children experiencing severe under-nutrition.
The MoWCA will prepare a detailed implementation plan for this new Child Benefit programme and submit to Cabinet for approval by December 2014. The Government will implement the scheme starting July 2015, prioritising initially those areas of the country where levels of child under-nutrition are highest.