Why a Focus on Child Poverty Matters?

Posted: 2017-04-28
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: povetry children

World’s population has reached 7.5 billion and the number is growing by 1.18 % per year, or approximately an additional 83 million people annually. Children make around a third of the population globally. The gap between rich and poor families has widened in an alarming number and child poverty has become a universal problem with devastating impacts on children and societies.


Multiple dimensions of poverty play importance to children.  The international poverty line is currently defined at $1.90 or below per person per day using 2011 United States dollars purchasing power parity (ppp). Poverty in childhood can have especially devastating and lifelong effects.  Children experience poverty as being deprived in the immediate aspects of their lives, areas including nutrition, health, water, education, protection and shelter.  A family’s standard of living is one of the crucial determinants of the deprivations children experience. When not clearly deprived in absolute terms, having a lower standard of living or poorer opportunities in education, health or nutrition compared to their peers limits their future life chances.

Child poverty results in lower skills and productivity, lower levels of health and educational achievement, increased likelihood of unemployment, and lower social cohesion. Poverty has societal and economic impacts and it destroys national potential.

Some facts about child poverty you should know:

▪ Children account for nearly half of the world’s extreme poor. The latest data tells us that 47 % of those living in extreme poverty are 18 years old or younger. If we want to end poverty one day, we need to focus on them.
▪ 1 in 4 children are living in poverty in the world’s most developed countries.  Children are affected by poverty in developed countries too. According to statistics, there are millions of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the European Union, revealing that child poverty is a universal challenge that requires a global response.
▪ In almost every country in the world children are more likely to live in poverty than adults. Whether using the extreme poverty line, or the Multidimensional Poverty Index, data tells us children are more likely to live in poverty than other groups. Ending child poverty is a challenge in many countries around the world.
▪ Only half of all countries in the world have child poverty data.  Data is the basis for ending child poverty. United Nations International Children's Fund analysis reveals  that only around half of all countries have data on child poverty, and this is often infrequently produced and reported.
▪ Only one-third of the poorest are covered by social protection. Social protection programmes have demonstrated long-lasting benefits for many families and children living in poverty, yet only one-third of the world’s poor are covered. To end child poverty, we must ensure children are protected from risks and vulnerability and have better access to the services they need.


The challenges for children remain great: children are significantly more likely to live in poverty than adults, and the impact of poverty on children can be devastating and lifelong, with implications for future generations and society as a whole. There is a growing body of evidence across sectors of the long- term impacts of these deprivations:

▪ Undernutrition can permanently impact a child’s growth, resulting in stunting and reduced mental development, and can lead to life-long learning difficulties and poor health.
A lack of education strongly impacts lifetime earnings.
▪ Early childhood education is shown as being crucial for school readiness and social-emotional development.
▪ Girls’ education, in particular, significantly impacts both their ability to control decisions and the wellbeing of their children.

Furthermore, children face these challenges globally, in richer and poorer countries alike. In many countries  child poverty is not explicitly targeted as a national priority, and it is often not routinely measured or reported on.

The importance of poverty for children is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which articulates children’s right to an adequate standard of living, and to be free from deprivations across crucial aspects of their lives including their health, education, nutrition, care and protection. Growing up in poverty is a direct violation of these rights. Adopted Sustainable Development Goals offer an opportunity to change this. Sustainable Development Goals Nr.1 on eradicating extreme poverty is crucial for children, and for the first time there is an explicit commitment that all countries measure child poverty and strengthen policies and programmes to meet the child poverty reduction goal by 2030.

While there have been positive changes in recent decades, children are vastly overrepresented among the world’s poorest people. Global numbers on children living in multidimensional poverty are currently less available than for child monetary poverty, but with around 1.6 billion adults living in multidimensional poverty, the number of children living in multi-dimensional poverty is extremely high.  


Regional numbers for multidimensional poverty in childhood are emerging, and in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, around two thirds of children (almost 250 million) experience two or more deprivations of multidimensional poverty. While children make up around a third of the population of developing countries, they make up half of those living in income poverty: that’s around 385 million children, according to recent United Nations data.


There are common similarities across countries that have made progress on child poverty:

1. Building a national pathway to end child poverty.
Convening stakeholders to share information about child poverty and its responses can be an important step in understanding how, and indeed if, to move forward, and what a national pathway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals  on child poverty may look like.

2. Measuring child poverty.
Without knowing how many and which children are living in multidimensional and monetary poverty, we cannot know how we are progressing to the goal, or the impacts of particular policies and programmes on child poverty. Technically measuring child poverty is not difficult, yet there can be a number of options that can confuse, and it does require some particular statistical expertise.

3. Child poverty advocacy.
Child poverty has been shown in many contexts to resonate with both the public and decision makers as a priority issue. Broad child poverty advocacy and communication of the results of child poverty measurement can raise the issue up national political agendas, as well as raise awareness in specific and influential audience groups. It can begin the conversation on policy and programmatic solutions.

4. Reducing child poverty requires appropriate policy and programme changes.
To reduce child poverty requires appropriate policies and programmes to be initiated or expanded. There are a clear set of approaches – ranging from cash transfer programmes to improving access and quality of education for the poorest children – that can make a difference. To make these changes requires clarity on which approaches are needed for the particular national context, and a combination of advocacy and technical analysis to support policy makers in develop change. The implementation of these policies and programs should be monitored and evaluated.

Across countries a broad range of stakeholders have been involved in stressing the importance of child poverty and acting to address it. In countries looking to build national policy and programme responses, perhaps most important have been the government ministries or departments that lead in the area, particularly those with expertise on poverty work, children and statistics such as Ministries of Finance, Ministries of Children or their equivalents, and National Statistical Offices. Other stakeholders vary but frequently include civil society groups, both national and international, focused on issues of children and poverty.


Generational cyrcle of poverty

Some of the evidence that exists shows that children growing up in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults.  The longer a child was poor, the greater the risk of being poor in adulthood. Ending child poverty is crucial in breaking the inter generational cyrcle of poverty and addressing poverty overall.  Breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty can only be achieved through priority attention to children in poverty. As children become poor adults and parents, poverty is then passed on to the next generation of children. Addressing this intergenerational transmission of poverty is vital to addressing poverty reduction, and with children representing around a third to a half of those living in poverty across countries, addressing poverty without focusing on child poverty is impossible.

Poverty eradication is addressed in Chapter II of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002), which stressed that eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly for developing countries.

Priority actions on poverty eradication may include:

▪ improving access to sustainable livelihoods, entrepreneurial opportunities and productive resources;
▪ providing universal access to basic social services;
▪ progressively developing social protection systems to support those who cannot support themselves;
▪ empowering people living in poverty and their organizations;
▪ addressing the disproportionate impact of poverty on women;
▪ intensifying international cooperation for poverty eradication.

Despite all these reasons to act urgently on child poverty, many countries still don’t prioritize children in their policies and programmes to end poverty. Knowing that child poverty has devastating effect on children and societies, and that children are overrepresented among those living in poverty, is a strong call to action towards  collaboration among all involved stakeholders. Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

Sintija Bernava,
Chairwoman of the Board of Non Governmental Organisation ‘’Donum Animus’’ (Latvia). ‘’Donum Animus’’ is the only  Non Governmental Organisation from Latvia holding Consultative Status of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.


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