Children and poverty
Children experience poverty as an environment that is damaging to their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development. Therefore, expanding the definition of child poverty beyond traditional measures, such as low household income or low levels of consumption, is particularly important. And yet, child poverty is rarely differentiated from poverty in general and its special dimensions are seldom recognised.
Children experience poverty with their hands, minds and hearts. Material poverty – for example, starting the day without a nutritious meal or engaging in hazardous labour – hinders emotional capacity as well as bodily growth. Living in an environment that provides little stimulation or emotional support to children, on the other hand, can remove many of the positive effects of growing up in a materially rich household. By discriminating against their participation in society and inhibiting their potential, poverty is a measure not only of children’s suffering but also of their disempowerment.
The threat to childhood from poverty, ill health and deprivation is multifaceted. The response has to be similarly all-embracing. What is needed is an integrated approach to early childhood that will greatly improve the chances that every child will both survive and thrive, additional spending on families, incorporating a gender perspective into poverty reduction strategies, strengthening protection of children at every level and involving them in devising solutions for their problems.
The resources are available to fund a global transformation of childhood, through both increased official development assistance and improvements in the quality of national public finances. Implementing national plans of action for children with a set of specific, time-bound and measurable targets and goals, as agreed at the UN Special Session on Children, would go a long way to meet the agenda of ‘A World Fit for Children’.
Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition. Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year--five million deaths. Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which undernutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) (Black 2003, Bryce 2005). Malnutrition can also be caused by diseases, such as the diseases that cause diarrhea, by reducing the body's ability to convert food into usable nutrients.
Geographically, more than 70 percent of malnourished children live in Asia, 26 percent in Africa and 4 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. In many cases, their plight began even before birth with a malnourished mother. Under-nutrition among pregnant women in developing countries leads to 1 out of 6 infants born with low birth weight. This is not only a risk factor for neonatal deaths, but also causes learning disabilities, mental, retardation, poor health, blindness and premature death.
Strategies for Tackling Child Poverty
Child hunger is the biggest scandal of our time. More than 2 million children die every year because they can’t get enough to eat. Millions more live with physical disabilities or learning difficulties because their growth has been stunted by lack of food.
Stunting (or stunted growth) is what happens to a child’s brain and body when they don’t get the right kind of food or nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life. The damage is irreversible. That child will never learn, nor earn, as much as he or she could have if properly nourished in early life. A child needs good nutrition to develop, as much as they need clean water and education.
A stunted child is often inches shorter than a child who's had enough of the right kind of food. Their immune system is weaker, leaving them more vulnerable to disease. They're five times more likely to die from diarrhoea. About 180 million children under the age of five suffer from stunting and are not reaching their potential.
The monitoring and analysis of national budgets from the perspective of their impact on children is a promising approach to promoting increased resource allocation for children and maximizing its effective use. Better targeting of education, health and social assistance services towards the poor, addressing government-related impediments to service quality and effectiveness, increasing community participation, and scaling up on the basis of successful programmes would help meet the good governance requirements of the Monterrey Consensus for developing countries.
Substantial additional resources could be freed up, for example, by diverting expenditure on weapons and other military equipment. If even a fraction of this expenditure were diverted to health or education this would release millions - if not billions - of dollars.
Delegates… how can we:
Build national capacities for primary health care?
Get girls to school?
Support good nutrition and assist in sanitation improvement.
Create a protective child environment?
Advocate and raise awareness and helping effect policies for children’s well-being?
Key questions for research
1. What are the key issues for your country and region?
2. What action has your country taken to promote the eradication of poverty on a national and international level?
3. How is your country promoting the health, nutrition and emotional well-being of children?
4. How is your country promoting education – especially for girls?
5. How has your country implemented legislation that promotes a protective child environment?
6. Do national polices take account of children?
7. Does your country keep and submit data on the well-being of children?
8. What are your country’s priorities? What new legislation, treaties and actions are possible?
9. Who will be your strongest allies in committee?
Information specific to child poverty: