Cash transfers reduce risk of intimate partner violence for young girls in South Africa

07 March 2018

Study finds that the risk of physical intimate partner violence (IPV) is reduced by giving regular cash payments to poor girls, but HIV infection rates are not affected.

school girl in South Africa sits on her own

The South African study, published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS), is the first to attempt to measure the impact of cash transfers on IPV specifically among adolescents. Girls (aged between 14 and 17) and their families were given monthly payments on the condition that they regularly attended high school. Over 2,000 girls took part in the study and their experiences were monitored over three years.

The results were clear. Across every indicator the girls who received payments experienced less violence than those who did not – although this did not translate to lower HIV infection rates for the group. While 18.5% of the girls who were given cash transfers still suffered some form of IPV, the reality for the girls without financial support was considerably worse, 28% of them faced violence from a partner.

The study used a World Health Organization definition of physical IPV which includes most forms of violence by a partner, ranging from being pushed or hit to being attacked with a weapon. It does not, however, include sexual violence. Researchers interviewed participants about this separately and found the cash intervention had no marked impact on levels of sexual violence. Around 2% of the young women who took part in the study reported being forced to have sex, irrespective of whether they had received cash transfers or not.

The research hoped to shed light on the links between health, gender inequalities and poverty. Previous evidence has shown that women who experience IPV are at greater risk of acquiring HIV. However, in this case, the cash transfers made no difference to HIV infection rates. Instead the main consequence of the intervention was that girls were less sexually active; those who received cash transfers were more likely to delay their sexual debut and had fewer sexual partners.

Cash transfers are used to address the structural elements of poverty that increase risk. The hope is that women who receive such payments are empowered to choose safer sexual behaviour. The girls who benefitted from the cash transfers during this study did describe feeling more independent and financially empowered. The authors of the study found that: “in contrast to other studies with older women, we do not find that the cash works through changing power dynamics within existing partnerships but rather the effect was boosted through young women choosing not to engage in sexual partnerships.”

The study authors conclude that cash incentives alone will not prevent HIV infection or IPV among young women in South Africa. However, they point to a growing body of evidence that social protection reduces the risk of HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in high poverty settings. “Policy-makers across social development and public health ministries would do well to work together to integrate targeted public health interventions for young women into social protection programmes in order to harness the synergistic power of the two.”


Photo credit:
Photo credit: istock/GeorgiaCourt. Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply any health status or behaviour on the part of the people in the photo.

Written by Laura Davies