The Bolsa Escola program in Brazil provides families with a monthly stipend so that children can attend school rather than working in the streets. The program, which began in the city of Brasilia, was created with the realization that the working children of today are the poor adults of tomorrow. Bolsa Escola was expanded to a federal program in 2001.
The Bolsa Escola program is managed by the Department of Education. Qualifying families receive monthly payments and ATM cards (electronic bank cards) that allow them to access the stipends directly. Families must meet the following criteria: the children must be between the ages of six and 15 and cannot miss more than two days of school per month; each unemployed adult in the family must be registered with the National Employment System (SINE) and actively seeking employment; and the family must have lived in Brazil for at least five years. The family receives the stipend for a minimum of two years to a maximum of eight. If a child does not meet the mandatory attendance rate, the stipend for that month is withheld.
In addition to combating poverty and encouraging children to complete their education, this tactic has significantly decreased the numbers of child laborers and reduced the numbers of school dropouts. To date the Bolsa Escola has helped the families of 8,289,930 children. When the federal program was created, Bolsa Escola became the broadest social program in the world.
The Bolsa Escola program existed in various smaller guises across Brazil since the 1990s. It is known in its current form as the Bolsa Familia program, launched nationwide by President Lula's administration in 2003. The Bolsa Familia program now covers all 5,570 municipalities in Brazil. The impact on poverty, particularly regarding child nutrition has been significant. Brazil has reduced the number of child deaths by 73%, and people of all ages benefit. It has been surprisingly cost effective, with estimates stating that the program accounts for less than 0.5% of GDP. Other countries are taking notice to see how such a program could be implemented.
Please see a number of articles written about the program's on-going adaptations by the BBC in recent years:
Not taken for granted: Brazil celebrates Bolsa Familia (Oct 2014)
Brazil unveils social programme for low-income families (May 2012)
Brazil launches scheme to lift millions out of poverty (June 2011)
Family friendly: Brazil's scheme to tackle poverty (May 2010)
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Poverty is one of the root causes of child labor. Many families would like to send their children to school but cannot afford to do so because they need the income those children can earn. A program has been created in Brazil to provide economic support to families, thus allowing their children an education.
Families are often complicit in the use of child labor — because of need, rather than choice — and this tactic gives them an alternative. Providing ATM cards that look like and can be used like other ATM cards also helps recipients avoid the stigma associated with poverty and public assistance. This approach clearly requires significant financial resources and also demands a great deal of administration and coordination among the various agencies and institutions. Yet, is surprisingly cost effective in reducing poverty.