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#DayoftheGirl EDUCATION: how incentivising families is keeping girls in school in Nigeria

Mobilising for Development is placing school attendance at the heart of agricultural growth for rural communities in Jigawa state.

I am very happy that I am now in Senior Secondary School (SSS) 1, an opportunity my two elder sisters missed because our father was not be able to cater for their SSS education.”- Naima Haruna on an intervention aimed at keeping girls in school longer and tackling child marriage

Schemes where parents are provided with a certain amount of money on the condition that they keep girls in school and delay marriage have been used in India, Bangladesh, and recently in Nigeria. But these schemes are not particularly popular. This is because the most common conditional schemes largely focus on giving cash to the parents, and sustaining this may be a challenge.

Action research conducted by the Mobilising for Development (M4D) programme has identified two underlying factors related to addressing child marriage - poverty and benefits to gatekeepers. This research has pointed to a need for two crucial and inter-linked approaches to tackling child marriage, which are not widely used today.

An alternative to giving parents cash is subsidizing government services that are of priority to the heads of households. For example, in societies where agriculture is a major livelihood, subsidizing government provided agricultural services and improving access to these services on the condition that girls stay in school is a more sustainable approach which will, in the long-run, benefit the girl, her parents, and the country’s economy. It is a “win-win-win” situation.

The second approach to tackling child marriage is having the conditional scheme encourage parents to keep both boys and girls in schools, as opposed to strictly focusing on girls. There are a number of reasons for this. The first has to do with the fact that in a number of societies questions around marrying off girls are highly contentious, and in order to mitigate backlash to programmes that attempt to intervene with marriage decisions, encouraging parents to keep all children in school is proposed. Another reason for focusing on both boys and girls is that boys from poorer households are also less likely to complete their primary education or go to a higher institution, and their education too should be encouraged.

Using these two inter-linked approaches, the M4D programme, is leveraging a cluster farming intervention which has been in use by the Jigawa State government for two years.

The Jigawa state cluster farming work is an adaptation of the World Bank’s FADAMA projects. It is aimed at improving the agriculture sector within the state given the reduction in financial resources received by the state from the Federal Reserve. Land is divided amongst farmers, who also receive loaned agricultural support resources such as fertilizers and hoses. The farmers are expected to pay a sum of money in cash or in kind after harvest to the state. Each farmer has to provide a guarantor, who is responsible for the repayment if the farmer cannot make the payment. Guarantors are largely civil servants because it is easier to deduct payments from their salaries. If a farmer defaults, he (the intervention focuses on the male heads of households) is no longer eligible to serve as a beneficiary of any agricultural support programme within the state, he is also expected to pay twice the total sum of the loan in cash or in kind.

In three communities, 60 farmers participating in this cluster farming intervention were selected on the condition that they ensured that all their children went to school. Religious mediation councils called Committees of Sulhu were expected to intervene in cases where farmers did not keep their end of the bargain and did not keep their children in school. These ‘defaulters’ are expected to experience the same sanctions as the defaulters who do not pay back loans.

This intervention commenced at the end of the school year, in May 2017. Schools within the state resumed on the 18th of September. Already school enrollment has increased. 

Too often gender-focused interventions are not sustainable because key decision-makers, including girls’ parents, do not see the benefit of such interventions to themselves. In fact, they may see such interventions as more of a hindrance than a help. This type of conditional scheme, on the other hand, helps keep girls in school while also benefiting her father and the state. It therefore holds much greater promise than many interventions that have gone before.

The M4D programme is funded by the UK government and managed by Palladium.