The Government of Haryana, a state in northern India, promised to pay thousands of low-income, lower caste families $400 USD to keep their daughters unmarried for 18 years. The conditional cash transfer scheme backfired, however, as three-quarters of families used the funds to underwrite dowries and wedding costs for their daughter immediately after she turned 18. The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), which evaluated the project, said it will take more than financial incentives to challenge deeply ingrained biases about young women and their value to society.
Results & Impact
The conditional cash transfer program did not reduce the likelihood of girls remaining unmarried, and it had the adverse effect of encouraging the participants to get married as soon as they turned 18. The participants were more likely to be enrolled in the eighth grade than non-participants, but they did not pursue further education in higher numbers. The program did not change parents’ perception of their daughters’ value, or their attitudes toward marriage, according to the ICRW.
The Government of Haryana, the Institute for Research on Women (ICRW)
Within 15 weeks of her daughters’ birth, a participating mother received about $8, with a promise of $400 if the girl reached 18 without being married. Thousands of families participated in the scheme, which began in 1994. The ICRW, a non-profit, evaluated the program between 2012 and 2015, using both quantitative and qualitative data. It concluded that the conditional cash transfer method is ineffective for eradicating child marriage, as it does not challenge the root causes of the problem.
Haryana, a state in north India
Women and girls, young people, children, rural population
Cost & Value
Mothers were given about $8 within 15 weeks of the birth of their daughter, and promised another $400 if she reached 18 without marrying.
Running since 1994
The Haryana government failed to clearly communicate the aims of the Apni Beti Apna Dahn program, which became evident after an ICRW evaluation concluded that many believed the scheme’s purpose was to help with wedding costs. The government also failed to record data on the participants - for example, there is no documentation on how many families took part in the experiment. Haryana also did not pay many of the beneficiaries the promised $400: most received between $120-290. Ultimately, the ICRW concluded that conditional cash transfers do not do enough to tackle the root causes of child marriage, such as ingrained sexism, India’s focus castes and class, and pervasive poverty, particularly in rural areas.
Malawi's World Bank-funded Zomba cash transfer programme, which contrasted conditional and unconditional transfers, was more successful. The two-year program led to a significant decline in early marriage, teen pregnancy and self-reported sexual activity among those receiving unconditional transfers, while those receiving conditional transfers were likely to attend school for longer periods.
A state-wide scheme to end child marriage by paying families to keep their underage daughters unmarried has backfired, with three-quarters of participating girls using the cash for dowries or wedding expenses immediately after turning 18.
Launched in 1994, the Haryana government’s Apni Beti Apna Dahn (“my daughter, my wealth”) conditional cash transfer program promised thousands of families about $400 USD on the condition that they do not marry off their daughters. The government hoped the scheme would encourage girls to stay in school, improve their perceived value in society, and curb child marriage, which is prevalent in the northern state.
However, the cash transfers did not delay marriage. In fact, beneficiaries, with their new influx of cash, were more likely to marry exactly at 18. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), the non-profit that evaluated the program, three-fourths of girls who had already cashed out their benefits used it for marriage expenses. Of those who had not yet cashed out, 53% intended to do the same.
The non-profit concluded that the program encouraged early marriage, and “may have even reinforced notions that girls are a burden.”
“The majority of girls in the beneficiaries group got married as soon as they turned 18 – while on the control side [girls who did not participate in the scheme], girls did not marry between the ages of 18 and 19, likely because they did not have the money for the dowry,” said Ravi Verma, Regional Director for ICRW’s Asia Regional Office in New Delhi.
“In terms of the number of girls who married before 18, there was no difference between the beneficiaries and the non-beneficiaries,” said Verma.
Haryana is known for its skewed sex ratio, with more sons born than daughters. Boys are often viewed as integral to carrying on the family name, and daughters – from the time they are born – are traditionally believed to belong to their future husband’s family. Child marriage is widespread in Haryana (and in India, with 47% of Indian girls married before their eighteenth birthday) for many reasons, one of the most prevalent of which is that girls are seen as an economic burden. The idea behind the cash transfer program is to change how girls are seen: from a burden to an asset.
However, the program, which focused on low-income, lower caste families, did not have the desired impact.
“There are so many different sectors, agencies and departments, but they don’t work together. The point is that they are so siloed that they don’t talk to each other – and they don’t talk to families and girls about their needs and aspirations. They need to talk to each other,” said Verma. “Cash transfers are not enough to have a shift in the value of girls.”
The ICRW evaluated quantitative and qualitative data to assess whether girls remained unmarried and stayed in school for longer. They also evaluated if and how parents’ attitudes toward marriage and girls changed over the course of the experiment. The non-profit surveyed some 9,000 participants beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries – both daughters and parents – from 2012 to 2015.
The ICRW found that the girls who participated in the study were more likely to be enrolled in the eighth grade, but were not more likely to attend secondary or post-secondary school. The researchers concluded that this was likely because in Haryana, there are primary schools near every village – but secondary schools are few and far between. When girls have to travel farther for school, it raises financial and safety concerns for parents, many of whom do not allow their daughters to continue their education in order to protect them from potential harassment or sexual abuse. Additionally, the researchers found that while some parents wanted their daughters to stay in school, it was more often to prepare them for a prospective husband – not a career.
There were significant flaws in the program’s implementation. The state government did not clearly communicate the goals of the schemes to participating parents, many of whom thought it was intended to help with wedding costs, the ICRW found. There was also a lack of baseline data on the participants: for example, there is no known information on how many beneficiaries participated in the scheme.
Finally, participants were not paid what they were promised. Between 1994 and 1998, participating mothers were allocated about $8 within 15 weeks of their daughter’s birth. They were promised $400 if their daughters reached the age of 18 without marrying, but the government only paid the families between $120 and $290 each. This may affect people’s confidence in future cash transfer programs.
ICRW researchers concluded that conditional cash transfers cannot sufficiently tackle the complexity of socially constructed gender roles and the importance placed on marriage in Indian society.
“Unless these incentives are packaged as part of girls’ economic and educational empowerment, these norms will not change,” said Verma. “We need to inspire them to do things they want to, rather than treating marriage and having children as the most important part of their lives.”
(Picture credit: Flickr/Koshy Koshy)