A government incentive program that targets some of Peru’s economically poorest areas is helping to keep indigenous children in school, a new study has found.
The program, called “Juntos” (Spanish for “together”), gives families the equivalent of about $70 a month. In return, the families agree to make sure their children are enrolled in school and get regular health checkups. Pregnant women also commit to prenatal checkups.
The study, which was released on November 14, was the first to examine how people in indigenous communities viewed the program and the impact it had on their families. Researchers spent two months in each of six communities of Asháninka, Aymara, Awajun, Quechua and Shawi people in the Peruvian Andes and Amazon.
Those communities are in some of the poorest regions of the country. Nationwide, Juntos reaches some 700,000 families, mainly in rural areas.
“People value the fact that Juntos has not deceived them – that it actually provides the cash transfers,” said Norma Correa of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima, who led the study.
As with similar programs in other countries, Juntos puts the cash in the hands of mothers, on the grounds that they are most likely to invest in their families. The researchers found that the women generally used the allowance to buy food, clothing, school uniforms and supplies, and some essential household items. Some women saved money for emergencies or to start small businesses.
School enrollment rates increased in those communities, especially among girls, although families who did not receive Juntos allowances still gave boys priority over girls at school enrollment time, Correa said.
The program also increased demand for identity documents and health-care services, she said. Use of health centers was not as great as school enrollment, however, possibly because indigenous families depend more on traditional medicine, because of a shortage of good-quality health-care facilities or because they face language barriers or other discrimination at public health centers, she said.
Local perceptions of the Juntos program were sometimes at odds with the government’s intentions, Correa said. In some communities, people said the program was unfair because it included only certain families, even though the entire community lacked basic services and could therefore be considered poor.
The researchers recommended that the government communicate the program’s goals and eligibility criteria more clearly.
They also warned that mayors or other officials in some communities had threatened to cut off people’s access to Juntos if they did not participate in community workdays or pay certain fees, which are not part of the project.
Despite those problems, the study gave the program a generally positive review. It also found that Juntos empowered women, a benefit that was not an official program goal. Local management committees consisting of women involved in the program have gained a voice in some community affairs, a role from which women often are sidelined in indigenous communities, the researchers said.