The 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child serves as a reminder that a decent standard of living and the ability to develop are basic rights of all children everywhere. Poverty is a major risk to young children. Lack of income and poor living conditions undermine children’s biological and cognitive development and ultimately limit their opportunities for the future. Tackling poverty is therefore crucial for improving early childhood development.
In Haiti, this presents an enormous challenge as more than half of the population live in poverty. A new wave of anti-poverty programming – graduation programmes – have become popular across low-income countries in order to help those living in extreme poverty. These programmes are based on the understanding that people in poverty require a big push to be able to move out. Over a period of 18 months, programmes provide them with a comprehensive package of support that includes cash transfers, small assets such as livestock, access to savings and credit, training and coaching.
The case studies of six Haitian women, Madeline, Angeline, Samantha, Guerlande, Fabienne and Jenniflore, illustrate the difference that anti-poverty programming can make to their lives. While they still face significant challenges, the positive changes cannot be ignored.
In Haiti, local organisation Fonkoze is implementing the Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) programme. The programme helps women to set up small businesses or other economic activities. Women are given animals such as goats and pigs or merchandise to start a business. They are also supported to become members of a community savings and lendings group. They receive materials for improving their homes and for building a latrine. This is all coupled with training and advice on how to improve health and sanitation for themselves and for their children.
Madeline – joining a supportive programme
Madeline is the mother of three boys – Mackenson, Wilson and Junior. She started the programme in 2017. She received two goats and a pig with the objective to multiply them. This way Madeline can earn some money. Since receiving the animals, she managed to rear seven goats. She plans to sell the goats and use the money for paying school fees for her two older sons.
The combination of all different types of programme support proves most powerful. For example, when the programme provides women with a water filter, case managers teach them how to use it and follow-up on the usage. This means that families experience the benefits of drinking clean water for their children, making it more likely that they will continue this practice in the future.
Angeline, Samantha and Guerlande – juggling childcare
This doesn’t mean that there are no challenges. Angeline has four young children and lives with her husband in the hills of the Central Plateau. She often struggles to find someone to look after her children, especially when she is going to the market far away. Her daughter of seven years old and son of five years old end up looking after their younger sisters. Angeline worries that they are not safe and that they don’t get enough to eat and get dirty.
Many women face difficulties to combine work with childcare, particularly when they have young children. Samantha went to another town in search of work and left Jessica with her mother. She believes it is better for Jessica to stay in the village and she trusts her mother to look after her well. But it also means that she can’t teach Jessica how to read and write as her mother is illiterate.
Guerlande lives with her husband, Peterson, and two young daughters. Guerlande now spends more time at home to look after her daughters compared to before the programme. However, Peterson works in the Dominican Republic and is often away. Guerlande’s mother and two younger sisters are the main caretakers of Guerlande’s children when Guerlande and Peterson are both working away from home.
Not all women can rely on support with childcare, and children end up being on their own or with other young siblings. Women feel that they have no other choice but to leave their children at home.
Carrying their children with them to the market or the farm is not practical, and they worry about their children’s safety when leaving them with others whom they don’t know well.
Fabienne and Jenniflore – balancing responsibilities with their husbands
Although the CLM programme emphasises that women can also earn money like men do, it does not challenge norms and expectations about responsibilities for childcare. Strong relationships between female programme participants and their husbands are important for raising their children and for making best use of the opportunities provided through the programme.
Fabienne has four children. Her progress is made possible by the collaboration with her husband Ricardo. He works in farming and at the local sugar cane mill, but he also helps with household tasks and pays a lot of attention to his children.
Jenniflore is expecting her second son soon and anticipates her husband Dieudonné will show greater commitment and contribution to childcaring and support. She believes that together, they could manage greater things such as rearing a cow. Jenniflore feels capable and able to take good care of her children. If going out afar to do business is not possible, then she will set up a shop from home. For example, she could sell non-food items such as soap and laundry detergents.
Ensuring stronger futures in Haiti
Programmes like CLM help to improve children’s lives. They live in better houses, eat more and they are healthier. Various things can be done to improve this impact. This includes recognising that undertaking paid work, household tasks and caring for a child are difficult tasks to combine. Discussing this difficult situation with programme participants can serve as a starting point for developing solutions.
Involving men and other caregivers will be key to ensure that the responsibility for childcare and child development is everybody’s concern. But no family can raise a child without the availability of good and affordable health services, schools and other facilities. Young children in Haiti need women and men within families and communities and across the country to come together to ensure their development. Together we must ensure children’s pathways into stronger and brighter futures.