SAMUT SONGKHRAM, Thailand, Oct 10 (Thomson Reuters
Foundation) - A fter the birth of her second son six months ago,
Narinthip Pommarin stopped work to focus on her boys but soon
found her husband's sporadic $12-a-day roofing jobs could not
cover their needs.
They were forced to borrow money for the rent on their tiny,
airless room in a rowhouse behind a car wash in Samut Songkhram
province, southwest of Bangkok, and were struggling to repay the
Then a friend suggested Narinthip sign her baby Ang Bao up
for Thailand's new child support grant providing 400 baht ($12)
"It's not a lot, but it helps," Narinthip said, sitting in
the trash-strewn alley outside her home, tugging a rope to rock
Ang Bao to sleep in a hammock.
"We save it, we have not used any of it yet, but at least
when we do not have work, we can rely on this amount to buy milk
Thailand launched its child support grant a year ago to help
tens of thousands of its poorest children get a better start in
The initiative comes amid concerns that a lack of proper
nutrition and early years care has led to Thailand's children
having lower IQs than the global average which could have
longterm repercussions for the country.
U.N. children's agency UNICEF, which spent seven years
helping the government develop the programme, hopes other
countries in the region will follow suit.
Research shows that the first few years of a child's life
are crucial for mental and cognitive development.
Investing in the early years leads to healthier children who
do better at school and have higher earning potential as adults
- which helps break entrenched cycles of poverty, experts say.
"It is during the (first) six years that investment in a
child's development is most critical and yields the highest
long-term returns - not only for the individual child, but for
society as a whole," said UNICEF representative for Thailand
Earlier this year Thailand extended the grant until a
child's third birthday, from the original plan for a year of
support, and this month bumped up the monthly amount to 600 baht
"In the past, Thailand did not have any programme to care
for young children," said Maitri Inthusut, permanent secretary
of Thailand's Ministry for Social Development and Human
"The child support grant is a way to look after children ...
to build a strong foundation for our country in the long term."
Families with a monthly salary of less than 3,000 baht ($86)
per adult are eligible for the grant.
Among its 65 million people, Thailand estimated 128,000 of
the 710,000 babies born each year would qualify for the grant.
So far 154,000 have registered, Maitri said, meaning the
government has underestimated the number living in poverty.
The grant has also opened a crucial channel of communication
between families in need and local authorities, increasing
access to social services.
"The government is directly reaching its hand out to help.
This keeps (families) in close contact with the local government
(services)," Maitri said.
Statistics from the programme are sobering.
Among the mothers of the registered babies, 46 percent are
unemployed, 23 percent are under 20 years old, 40 percent are
single mothers, and 10 percent lack secure housing, Maitri said.
For 40-year-old Saipiroon Poonsawat, the main carer for her
baby nephew who has severe developmental problems, registration
has linked her to social workers and much-needed assistance.
Eleven people live in her leaky, ramshackle hut, including
seven children and her pregnant daughter-in-law. Soon there will
be a twelfth mouth to feed.
"Even now, we skip meals," Saipiroon said, cradling her
skeletal nephew, Porsche, his feeding tube sticking out from
under his shirt.
During a visit, social workers brainstormed ways to tap into
other funds for Porsche's healthcare and infant formula, as well
as tuition for Saipiroon's 16-year-old son who had to quit
school to save money.
Thailand, which launched its grant after a visit to see
South Africa's child support programme, will share its
experiences at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur next month of regional
ministers and officials, organised by UNICEF and the Malaysian
Cambodia and Bangladesh are already planning to visit
Thailand with a view to setting up similar child support grants,
UNICEF's Davin said.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang @alisatang. Editing by Emma Batha.
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