Thailand: Child support expanded, now needs to be enhanced

The Thai government announced, mid-2015, a policy on child support providing grants for poor families. A monthly allowance of 400 baht per child will be given to children born between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security anticipates that about 135,768 new-born babies will be covered once the program is completed. Civil society wants social security to be recognised as a right and warns that the complexities of poverty and inequality in a changing society need to be better understood.

The Thai government announced, on 15 July 2015, its implementation of the policy on child support grant provision for poor families. A monthly allowance of 400 baht per child will be given to children born between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016. The scheme was operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. The government anticipated that about 135,768 new-born babies would be covered by the scheme. When the program is completed, an evaluation will be carried out to assess the suitability of the program’s next phase. Families entitled to receive the grant are basically required to earn a monthly income of not more than 3,000 baht, be landless and burdened with such dependants as handicapped family members, the elderly, children under the age of 15, and single parenthood.

There are many cases where policy decisions are made on the basis of politics rather than the use of academic information.  Therefore academic debates and exchanges of information and ideas among civil society in the public arena will be of benefit in public policy advocacy which most helps the majority of people by jointly developing a social welfare system to be deeply rooted in Thai society.  This is a social guarantee that different groups can access, especially in the midst of the social and political confusion and conflict that exists in Thailand at present.  The participation of civil society in setting public policy therefore has more meaning and importance.

The Social Agenda Working Group of Chulalongkorn Social Research Institute has been working as a secretariat office networking non-governmental organizations working on women, children and development issues. The networking has focused on social equity and health, particularly the child support grant.

The working group’s exchanges of opinions in several regions pointed out that there were common problems connected with those found by macro-level research works, which could be a signal for society to pay more attention to the ongoing social conditions. The intensity of the problems, such as divorce rate and teenage pregnancy, made a lot of people realize that their participation was importantly conducive to policy change campaign for a better society.

Discussions with various networks also found that many vulnerable groups were very enthusiastic about the child support grant and wanted to be socially participating. These vulnerable groups included those of minority people, the handicapped, the elderly, migrant workers, indigenous fishers, women, informal workers, as well as networks of people with AIDS and consumers.

The heart of child support is the development of early childhood care that builds a good life for our children as part of building a society of quality and value.  Society has to look after its children; the stronger need to support the weaker so that all can have a better life of higher value.  To raise such issues as widely as possible in civil society will increase people’s imaginations beyond their current horizons and stimulate people-centred action in public policy management that is not led by economic decisions. For this reason, child support grants act as an opening to issues of more effective childcare in society.

For such a scenario to become a reality, cooperation between civil society actors, academics and policy analysts is needed as a basis for public policy advocacy, creating practical knowledge that leads to ‘practical justice’.  We need to find ways and means that correspond to social realities, create participation and mobile social forces horizontally (participation and mobilization theory), and make improvements to the rules and regulations at various levels, including to individuals’ behaviour, by adding positive encouragement through a civil society campaign.

In terms of strategy, therefore, civil society must focus on joining forces together to move on public policy on children by strengthening the Task Force for Children with ideas, manpower and financial contributions.  To ensure that the Task Force has the capacity to carry out advocacy on their behalf in the short-, medium- and long-term, there may in the future be a need to establish a secretariat of NGOs engaged in children and family welfare.

The exchanges among civil society groups also raised other related issues that require society and the state to consider broader and more inclusive social protection measures, for example measures that ensure fair wages, and that protect the natural resource base such as rivers forests and land to ensure sustainable livelihoods. 

According to the basic welfare provision, child support grant could be considered as a people’s basic right to fundamental welfare. It is a basic social service the state has a “duty” to provide for its people, in addition to other services such as education, health care, housing, employment, information for public safety and social work. Moreover, the life of most people in this society is related to the welfare based on natural resources, such as land, water, forest, biodiversity and genetic diversity. People living in agricultural communities depend most on this type of welfare, which is accessible and beneficial to all. As a support base for the country’s majority population, if it lacks security, young children born of the families relying on this base will be insecure too.

Involving people in discussing important issues such as early childhood care and child support grants by opening a channel for providing a variety of information and ideas to “move away from a confining sense of self and our small certainties into a spaciousness where new ideas can reveal themselves” (The World Café).  A model was used to create an exchange among equals to combine wisdom into group-level wisdom and to give importance to the exchange of perspectives of each person’s experience of life and society.

The raising of issues for exchange and study at the regional field level, especially in the northeast, clearly shows a difference of the changing social characteristics between urban and rural.  However, rural areas still have more sense of community and family networks for mutual social help than urban communities.  While individualistic society increasingly resembles western society, the management of the social participatory process on grants should take this difference into account.

Exchanges with civil society networks  in the field showed the specific context of each locality, for example the issue of  inequality in social protection.  The experience of  life and society of civil society shows that Thai society is very vulnerable to social insecurity.  Opportunities to link data on social welfare on the basis of experience in labour and other networks creates new issues such as the need for childcare among migrant workers from neighbouring countries which is linked to social protection at the ASEAN level and the protection of rights of ethnic groups living in Thailand who do not have Thai nationality.

The important issue that the civil society sector has just recognized is that the characteristics of poverty in Thai society are increasingly complex and inequality is increasingly complex.  This basic understanding shows the growing limitations of welfare systems focussed on specific target groups, because modern directions of development have increasingly pushed the majority of society into the margins.  This complexity makes society unable to identify such people.  For example, people working in Bangkok cannot access certain welfare services because their house registration shows them as living in the provinces.  At the same time, many risks to society, the economy and nature are growing.  There is increasing exploitation in the employment system.  This is the situation of the majority in society who are the parents and guardians of young children.  In our advocacy for basic welfare for early childhood, many groups are very vulnerable to social insecurity

By Ranee Hassarungsee.

Ranee Hassarungsee is senior co-ordinator of the Social Agenda Working Group (Social Watch Thailand), Chulalongkorn Social Research Institute.