New study shows one billion children in poverty

Posted: 14 November 2003

Drawing from the largest, most accurate survey sample of children ever assembled, a new UNICEF-sponsored report has found that over one billion children (more than half of those living in developing countries) suffer from the severe effects of poverty and 674 million (over a third) are living in conditions of absolute poverty.

Using a pioneering methodology, the survey measures the extent of child poverty, not only in terms of income, but also of deprivation of basic human rights such as shelter, food, water, sanitation, health, education and information. The researchers analysed survey data on nearly 1.2 million children from 46 countries collected mainly during the late 1990's.

Child Poverty© UNICEF
Child Poverty© UNICEF
Over one billion children suffer from the severe effects of poverty and 674 million are living in conditions of absolute poverty.© UNICEF

The data is published in the UNICEF-comissioned report, Child Poverty in the Developing World. The research team included Dave Gordon of the Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol and Peter Townsend of the London School of Economics.

Dave Gordon, Professor of Social Justice at the University of Bristol and one of the authors of the report, Child poverty in the developing world, says: "Many of the children surveyed who were living in absolute poverty will have died or had their health profoundly damaged by the time the report is published, as a direct consequence of their appalling living conditions. Many others will have had their development so severely impaired that they may be unable to escape from a lifetime or grinding poverty."

Unsafe water

The researchers found that:

  • Over six hundred million (34 per cent) children are living in dwellings with more than five people per room or which have a mud floor;

  • Over half a billion children (31 per cent) have no kind of toilet facility;

  • Nearly 376 million (20 per cent) of children use unsafe water sources or have more than a 15-minute walk to water;

  • 134 million children aged between 7 and 18 (13 per cent) have never been to school;

  • 91 million children under 5 (15 per cent) are severely malnourished;

  • 265 million children (15 per cent) have never received any immunisations or have chronic, untreated diarrhoea;

  • Nearly 450 million aged between 3 and 18 (25 per cent) have no access to a radio, television, telephone, or newspapers at home.
The study found significant differences between regions, with Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest rates of severe deprivation with respect to four of the seven indicators - shelter, water, education and health. There were also clear gender differences, particularly with regards to education deprivation, with girls 60 per cent more likely to be severely educationally deprived. Girls in the Middle East and North Africa region are three times more likely than boys to be educationally deprived. Children in rural areas are much more likely to be severely deprived than urban children, particularly with regards to water, sanitation and education. In a number of countries, absolute poverty rates among children in rural areas are as high as 90 per cent.

Rural neglect

The report calls for anti-poverty strategies to respond to local conditions, and argues against blanket solutions to eradicating child poverty. Instead, it emphasises the need to improve basic infrastructure and social services for families with children, particularly with regards to shelter and sanitation in rural areas. An international investment fund for payment towards national schemes of child benefit in cash or kind is also suggested.

Shailen Nandy at the University of Bristol and one of the co-authors of the report says: "At this rate the UN Millennium Development Goals are unlikely to be met, given declining international commitment to development aid. The results of cutting public spending on basic social services have been an increase in poverty and inequality, a fact which organisations like the World Bank need to acknowledge."

Source: UNICEF-UK, 12 November 2003.

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