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Selected Readings on Data Responsibility and Cash Transfers for Children

Posted on 12th of August 2021 by Constanza Vidal Bustamante, Emil Verhulst


Cash Transfers have increasingly become part of the policy toolkit for social protection, poverty alleviation and the achievement of child outcomes around the world. The goals driving cash transfer programs for children include facilitating children’s increased access to basic goods and services as well as schooling and health care, reducing poverty-driven family practices that endanger children such as child marriage, and ultimately breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and inequity in the long run. 

Throughout the development and deployment of these programs, and especially given the increased adoption of digital tools for their implementation, key stakeholders such as humanitarian organizations and financial service providers collect, store, use, and share vast amounts of sensitive personal data on children and their families. Data and data analyses can help stakeholders better understand beneficiaries’ needs, enhance program efficiency, and evaluate success. However, the collection of large and sensitive datasets also poses important risks regarding the beneficiaries’ privacy and the potential misuse of data by third parties, which can be all the more sensitive in the context of minors. Irresponsible handling of data can not only erode the trust between program recipients and program leaders and jeopardize the program’s success--it can also threaten children’s safety, well-being, and development.

These selected readings on Data Responsibility and Cash Transfers for Children comprise two main sections: 1) Data responsibility considerations and best practices in cash transfer programs for children, and 2) Leveraging data and data analyses to assess the impact of cash transfers for children.

Annotated Selected Reading List

Data responsibility considerations and best practices in cash transfer programs for children

Data responsibility in cash and voucher assistance”, Guidance Note Series, Data Responsibility in Humanitarian Action, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, December 2020. 

  • This report outlines the benefits and risks associated with the collection, storage and use of large volumes of data in the context of cash and voucher assistance (CVA) programs, and recommends best practices in data responsibility for humanitarian organizations, financial service providers, and other stakeholders 
  • Data-related benefits in CVA include: (i) improved understanding of beneficiary priorities, needs and preferences; (ii) improved targeting of assistance, including deduplication of beneficiary lists; (iii) increased efficiency and effectiveness of different delivery mechanisms; and (iv) enhanced transparency and accountability.
  • Data-related risks in CVA include: (i) exposure of sensitive data that could lead to various forms of harm for affected people and/or humanitarian staff; (ii) breaches in data protection, data privacy and data security; (iii) potential misuse of data for non-humanitarian purposes by third parties; and (iv) loss of trust between affected people and humanitarian organizations. 
  • Some recommendations to improve data responsibility in CVA include: (i) mapping the CVA data ecosystem; (ii) establishing an information sharing protocol specific to CVA programmes; (iii) establishing data sharing agreements for the exchange of personal data; (iv) conducting data impact assessments for all CVA interventions; (v) introducing data incident management procedures; and (vi) tracking issues and progress on data responsibility in CVA through coordination structures.

Practical Guidance for Data Protection in Cash and Voucher Assistance. A supplement to the Cash in Emergencies Toolkit”, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, January 2021. 

  • This document translates general data protection principles into practical, actionable guidance, specific to decision making and implementation of cash and voucher assistance (CVA) programs. 
  • The document offers key data protection considerations for five main processes where beneficiary personal data is collected and processed in CVA programs: Targeting, Beneficiary Registration, Use of Financial Service Providers, Data Sharing with Governments, other Humanitarian Organizations, and Donors, and Post-Distribution Monitoring. 

Protecting Beneficiary Privacy: Principles and operational standards for the secure use of personal data in cash and e-transfer programmes”, The Cash and Learning Partnership, 2013. 

  • This document identifies eight principles for the secure use of personal data in cash transfer programs: 1) Respect, 2) Protect by Design, 3) Understand Data Flows and Risks, 4) Quality and Accuracy, 5) Obtain Consent or Inform Beneficiaries as to the Use of their Data (and adapt methodology appropriately when working with children), 6) Security, 7) Disposal, and 8) Accountability. 
  • Each of these principles is presented alongside concrete operational standards for implementation 
  • In 2016, and building upon the principles outlined in this document, the Electronic Cash Transfer Learning and Action Network (ELAN) launched a Data Starter Kit that provides concrete tips to help humanitarians assess data risks, minimize data collected, and protect and securely share data. 

Humanitarian Cash Transfers Monitoring and Evaluation Guidance”, and complementary Programmatic Guidance, UNICEF Office of Emergency Programmes and Programme Division, 2018. 

  • These documents provide general guidance for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a Humanitarian Cash Transfer program during a humanitarian response. UNICEF’s policies are discussed to support quick and impactful child-sensitive operational decisions
  • The Monitoring and Evaluation Guidance includes data collection recommendations for process, output, and outcome monitoring and assessment of cash transfers to ensure efficient implementation and avoiding bottlenecks and/or negative impacts along the way. Recommendations include collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, avoiding changes to indicators once collection has started for comparable analysis over time, and adhering to the ethical standards set by UNICEF for research, evaluation, and data collection, especially when using digital technology tools. This includes privacy protections for the beneficiaries’ personal data across the data lifecycle, from informed consent before data is collected, to limiting its access, using secure storage mechanisms, using anonymization techniques before sharing, and deleting the data securely once the program has been finalized.
  • The Programmatic Guidance document includes practical recommendations for data protection in cash transfer programs, such as incorporating a beneficiary data protection clause in every partner agreement; setting up and using a Management Information System Guidance; and setting up training on data protection for staff who work with beneficiary data.

Leveraging data and data analysis to assess the impact of cash transfers for children

Making cash transfers work for children and families”, UNICEF, November 2019. 

  • Cash transfers are one of the most common social protection interventions supported by UNICEF, reaching over 70 countries in 2015.
  • The report provides a brief background of UNICEF’s engagement with cash transfers globally, and associated opportunities and challenges. 
    • Positive outcomes associated with cash transfers include: directly addressing monetary child poverty and vulnerability, serving as a safety net to protect families from shocks, addressing financial barriers to basic social services like education and health, addressing financial drivers of child protection outcomes such as reduction in early marriage, and addressing the intergenerational cycle of poverty and inequity through accumulation of human capital.
    • However, the authors point out that evidence on the long-term impact of cash transfers is still emerging and the results are mixed. Further, they stress that cash alone is not a silver bullet and that a comprehensive policy approach –improving both the quality and provision of sectoral services and removing the barriers to access – is critical to achieve significant and sustainable results.
  • The report also provides a list 19 activities under four categories (Analysis of the Status Quo, Examining Program Design Options, Policy Engagement and Advocacy, Implementation with Monitoring and Evaluation) that could contribute to the introduction, expansion and improvement of cash transfers undertaken by UNICEF country offices. Examples of activities include: econometric analysis to simulate a policy’s potential macro (economy as a whole) as well as micro impact (at household level); costing different design options; supporting horizontal exchange of knowledge and experience; and modelling implementation through a pilot project. For each activity, the document describes potential approaches and considerations, along with country examples and further resources that provide more detailed guidance and information about each aspect of the work.

The Role of Cash Transfer in Improving Child Health: A Review of the Evidence”, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab South Asia, August 2018. 

  • This report reviews the effects of cash transfers on child health in developing countries, as well as existing evaluations of cash transfer programs in India to understand how design and implementation features promote or hinder the success of cash transfer programs.
  • The authors argue that “overall, the evidence suggests CTs can effectively improve a range of child health outcomes, including some, such as birth weight, height, and early cognitive development, which have been shown to have longer run implications for health and economic wellbeing.” They note that such effects are often larger among disadvantaged groups and younger children.
  • Moreover, in reviewing cash transfer programs in India, the authors note several issues in their design and administration that affect implementation quality and overall effectiveness. These issues include inappropriate eligibility criteria leading to exclusion of deserving groups, delays or changes in the delivery of services promised to beneficiaries, lack of access to financial institutions needed to receive the benefits, burdensome bureaucracy, and insufficient grievance redress mechanisms.

Cash Transfers: A Lifeline for Children and Economies in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021”, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office Social Policy Working Paper, January 2021. 

  • “This working paper makes the case for quickly expanding cash transfer programs across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to protect children and support economic recovery in 2021. It does so by: (i) describing the economic, poverty and child well-being situation across the region at the end of 2020; (ii) summarizing the evidence of the benefits of cash transfers; (iii) reviewing the state of cash-based programs in SSA before the pandemic and in the immediate response period; (iv) simulating the costs and economic returns of providing cash transfers to all households with children under  five; and (v) discussing domestic and external opportunities to fund the expansion. The  analyses and recommendations draw on more than 25 global databases, projection and monitoring exercises.”
  • The pandemic caused exceptional challenges for the economies and children across SSA, leading to the biggest rise in extreme poverty ever recorded. The authors estimate that the portion of children living in monetary poor households increased by 10% on average, pushing the regional total to more than 280 million. The consequences on nutrition and schooling have also been abysmal.
  • Cash transfers targeted to children might be a cost-effective palliative measure: In addition to boosting economic growth, cash transfers can prevent or minimize many risks to childrens’ well being, including malnutrition, unsafe living conditions, illness, lack of schooling, child labor and abuse, child pregnancy and marriage etc.
  • While cash transfer programs have become more popular in the region in recent years, they have remained limited (reaching about 10% of population) due to funding constraints. To expand coverage strategically, the authors recommend governments to provide monthly cash transfers to all children under five for 6-12 months, which in their analyses would generate compelling investment returns. Such a policy would be feasible via a combination of domestic budget reprioritization and the harnessing of approved but not yet disbursed emergency funding from international financial  institutions.

Effects of unconditional cash transfers on the outcome of treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM): A cluster-randomised trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, BMC Medicine, April 2017

  • This study used a randomized trial with Congolese children with SAM who received treatment with or without an unconditional cash supplement of US$40 monthly for six months.
  • The likelihood to reach full recovery from SAM was substantially higher in the intervention group than in the control group. All the nutritional outcomes in the intervention group were significantly better than those in the control group.
  • The researchers concluded that cash transfer programs can increase recovery from SAM and decrease relapse rates during and following treatment. They highlight household financial support as a critical piece to optimize malnourishment treatment efficiency.

Humanitarian Cash Transfers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Evidence from UNICEF’s ARCC II Programme, American Institutes for Research: International Research & Evaluation, April 2017. 

  • From 2013-2015, UNICEF and partners conducted the Alternative Responses for Communities in Crisis (ARCC), a large-scale unconditional cash transfer programme for humanitarian response that reached over 20,000 conflict-affected families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
  • The researchers find evidence that families used the cash to access basic goods, services, and livelihood opportunities. The programme improved children’s access to health care by 21%, and increased primary school enrollment by 13% for boys; there was no difference in school enrollment for girls between control and treatment groups. Qualitative analysis also found that beneficiaries frequently spent part of the transfers on health and education costs for children.
  • The authors conclude that their cash transfer program ultimately enhances beneficiaries’ well-being and resilience.

Conditional cash transfers and poverty eradication in Latin America”,  Instituto Interdisciplinario de Economía Política and CONICET, Argentina, 2016. 

  • This paper discusses advances and shortcomings in conditional cash transfers programs to households with children in Latin America.
  • The author points to evidence that cash transfers to households with children have positive impacts in combating extreme poverty, providing income stability, smoothing consumption over macroeconomic fluctuations, favoring trade and development given the increase in liquidity, and lowering barriers to enter into certain productive activities. With respect to children, these programs have been associated with increases in primary school enrollment rates and a reduction in malnutrition, although effects on secondary school attendance seem less significant. 
  • However, the author also notes that whether these programs discourage or reinforce the labour behaviour of adult household members might depend on a number of factors, from the magnitude of the cash transfer to the characteristics of the occupation (job conditions, commuting distance or number of hours worked), the demands of care and household chores, behavior of other household members. Hence, a second channel may be introduced through which transfers might lead to changes in the labour supply behaviour of adults, and the cash transfer program’s stipulated conditionalities (e.g. mandatory school attendance potentially reducing time spent on childcare and freeing up more time for work). 

A review of evidence of humanitarian cash transfer programming in urban areas”, International Institute for Environment and Development, December 2015

  • Humanitarian organizations are increasingly deploying cash transfer programs (CTP) in urban areas, using a range of cash modalities and delivery mechanisms in diverse emergency contexts. CTPs can help mitigate some urban protection concerns (for children and other vulnerable populations), and play a role in first phase urban humanitarian response objectives, potentially contributing to longer term development goals.
  • Urban areas pose unique protection concerns for vulnerable populations, including children. For example, there is a higher proportion of children out of school and working on the streets than in rural areas, given barriers to school access (fees and transport) and greater opportunities to engage in paid work. Although the review found mixed results for the impact of CTP on child protection risks, the authors found evidence that they can reduce the likelihood of recourse to negative coping mechanisms such as dropping out of school and child labour
  • Urban areas offer potential for innovative CTP mechanisms, e.g., streamlined single transfers to meet multi sectoral needs (via multipurpose grants); linking cash to existing services and training to support livelihoods recovery; and targeting higher-wealth categories with livelihoods support to re-establish credit lines and support wider economic recovery
  • The authors highlight the need for humanitarian organizations to coordinate broadly with government and private-sector actors and any other stakeholders involved in CTP implementation, as this can enhance legitimacy and enable greater synergy around national development programs

Cash and Voucher Assistance for Education in Emergencies: Synthesis Report and Guidelines”,The Cash and Learning Partnership, 2019

  • Cash and voucher assistance (CVA) for education in emergencies (EiE) removes economic barriers preventing crisis affected children from accessing education, thereby leading to prevention of drop-outs, increased enrolment and attendance. 
  • CVA for EiE should be delivered in coordination with interventions addressing protection, cultural and education service-related barriers. 
  • The authors highlight a series of recommendations for improvement, including: 
    • More robust needs assessment tools to inform integrated programming, as well as better response options analysis, both at the strategic and operational levels
    • More sophisticated beneficiary targeting criteria, e.g., via in-depth analysis of the social roots of education deprivation (although this is less feasible in acute emergency situations)
    • Paying greater attention to contextual factors (e.g. fluidity of the situation, absorptive capacity of school system) when deciding whether to use conditional or unconditional CVA
    • Aligning the timing of the EiE-specific CVA to moments when education-related expenses are incurred 
    • Linking humanitarian CVA with government social safety nets for increased outcome sustainability 

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