Sadaqat al-Fitr is a duty which is wajib (required) of every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult as long as he/she has the means to do so.
The proof that this form of charity is compulsory can be found in the Sunnah whereby Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings), made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims; one Saa` (about 2kg)of dried dates or one Saa` of barely. [Sahih Bukhari - Arabic/English, vol. 2, p. 339, no. 579]
The head of the household pay the required amount for the other members. Abu Sa'eed al-Khudree said, "On behalf of our young and old, free men and slaves, we used to take out during Allaah's Messenger's (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) lifetime one Sa` of grain, cheese or raisins". [Sahih Muslim - English transl. vol. 2, p. 469, no. 2155]
Every Muslim is required to pay Zakat al-Fitr at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to Allah for having enabled him or her to observe the obligator fast. Its purpose is:
As a levy on the fasting person. This is based on the hadith: The
Prophet of Allah, upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings, said,
"The fasting of the month of fasting will be hanging between
earth and heavens and it will not be raised up to the Divine Presence
without paying the Zakat al-Fitr."
After the spread of Islam the jurists permitted its payment from the beginning and middle of Ramadan so as to ensure that the Zakat al-Fitr reached its beneficiaries on the day of `Eid. It is particularly emphasized that the distribution be before the `Eid prayers in order that the needy who receive are able to use the fitr to provide for their dependents on the day of `Eid.
Nafi` reported that the Prophet's companion Ibn `Umar used to give it to those who would accept it and the people used to give it a day or two before the `Eid. [Bukhari - Arabic/English, Vol. 2, p.339, no. 579]
Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet, upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings, order that it (Zakat al-Fitr) be given before people go to perform the (`Eid) prayers.
One who forgets to pay this Zakat al-Fitr on time should do so as soon as possible even though it will not be counted as Zakat al-Fitr.
The Companion of the Prophet, Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree said, "In the Prophet's time, we used to give it (Zakatal-Fitr) as a sa` of food, dried dates, barley, raisins or dried cheese". [Bukhari - Arabic/English vol. 2, p. 340, no. 582]
The distribution of Zakat al-Fitr is the same as that of Zakah, and is included within its broader sense.