Child poverty

Street Child, Srimangal Railway Station, Srima...
Child poverty refers to the phenomenon of children living in poverty. This applies to children that come from poor families or orphans being raised with limited, or in some cases absent, state resources. Children that fail to meet the minimum acceptable standard of life for the nation where that child lives are said to be poor. In developing countries these standards are lower and when combined with the increased number of orphans the effects are more extreme.
The legal definition of children in most countries is ‘persons under the age of eighteen’,[1] while biologically the transition from childhood to adulthood is said to occur with the onset of puberty. Culturally defining the end of childhood is more complex, and takes into account factors such as the commencement of work, end of schooling and marriage as well as class, gender and race.[2] According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society”.[3] The ChildFund International (CFI) definition is based on Deprivation (lack of materialistic conditions and services), Exclusion (denial of rights and safety) and Vulnerability (when society can not deal with threats to children).[4] Other charitable organisations also use this multi-dimensional approach to child poverty, defining it as a combination of economic, social, cultural, physical, environmental and emotional factors.[5] These definitions suggest child poverty is multidimensional, relative to their current and changing living conditions and complex interactions of the body, mind and emotions are involved.[6]
The easiest way to quantify child poverty is by setting an absolute or relative monetary threshold.[7] If a family does not earn above that threshold, the children of that family will be considered to live below the poverty line. Absolute poverty thresholds are fixed and generally only updated for price changes, whereas relative poverty thresholds are developed with reference to the actual income of the population and reflect changes in consumption.[8] The absolute poverty threshold is the money needed to purchase a defined quantity of goods and services.[6] While there is no exact standard used to set the threshold, and it varies from country to country, it generally reflects the minimum income needed to acquire the necessities of life. Certain organisations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, use the absolute poverty threshold of US$1 a day to measure poverty in developing countries.[9][10] Since the 1960s, the US has used an absolute poverty threshold adjusted for family size and composition to determine those living in poverty.[8]
Europe and many other developed countries use a relative poverty threshold, typically 50% of the countries’ average income.[11] Relative poverty does not necessarily mean the child is lacking anything, but is more a reflection of inequality in society. Child poverty, when measured using relative thresholds, will only improve if low-income families benefit more from economic advances than well-off families.[11] Measures of child poverty using income thresholds will vary depending on whether relative or absolute poverty is measured and what threshold limits are applied. Using a relative measure, poverty is much higher in the US than in Europe, but if an absolute measure is used, then poverty in some European countries is higher.[12] It is argued that using income as the only threshold ignores the multidimensional aspect of child poverty, which includes consumption requirements, access to resources and the ability to interact in society safely and without discrimination.[6]
A 2003 study conducted by researchers out of Bristol attempted to provide a scientific basis for measuring severe deprivation based on levels of adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information.[13] Measurable values were attributed to each indicator and these were used to establish how many children were living in poverty. The values included: heights and weights more than 3 deviations below the international median, children with access only to rivers and other surface water, no access to toilets, no immunisations, no access to medical advice, living in dwellings with more than five people per room, no school attendance and no access to newspapers or other media. Out of a population of 1.8 billion children from developing nations, 56% were below at least one of these measurements. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, this number increased to over 80%, with the rural children from these areas the worst affected.
The Young Lives Project is investigating the changing nature of child poverty by following nearly 12 000 children for 15 years in four countries (Ethiopia, Peru, Vietnam and India), chosen to reflect a wide range of cultural, political, geographical and social contexts.[14] Every three to four years, researchers will collect data on the children and their families health, malnutrition, literacy, access to services and other indicators of poverty. Reports are available for these four countries that comparing the initial data obtained in 2002 with data from 2006.[15] Peru, Vietnam and India have shown economic growth and a reduction in poverty over this time, but large inequalities still exist between rural and urban areas, and among ethnic groups.[16][17] This is particularly obvious in India, a country with the second largest population of billionaires but also home to 25% of the worlds poor.[18] Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has also shown slight economic growth and reduction in poverty. Inequalities still exist, with boys more likely to be malnourished than girls and more absolute poverty in rural areas, although relative poverty is higher in urban areas.[19] This data was collected before the 2008 drought and the recent increase in food prices, which have had a severe impact on the ability of Ethiopia to feed its population

Capability Approach and the Child Development Index [edit]

Recently,[when?] debate among philosophers and theorists on how to define and measure poverty stems from the emergence of the human capability approach, where poverty is defined by Hi Kos extent of freedoms that a person possesses. Amartya Sen, the creator of the capability approach, argues that there are five fundamental freedoms that should be available to all humans: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security.[20] He also suggests that they are all interconnected, where each freedom fosters and/or enhances the others.[20]
Additionally, the capability approach claims that development should be considered a process of expanding freedoms or removing the major sources of unfreedom rather than a focus on narrower measurements such as growth of gross national product, per capita income, or industrialization.[20] According to kos basic needs approach (which in most aspects is quite like the capability approach), the objective of development should be to provide all humans with the opportunity to a full life, which goes beyond abstractions such as money, income, or employment.[21] Therefore, the definition and measurement of poverty in general must extend beyond measurements like per capita GDP, which tools such as the Human Development Index attempt to accomplish.
In light of this, a UK initiative, Save the Children, has also developed a measurement of child poverty based on measures of capability, called the Child Development Index (CDI).[22] CDI is an index that combines performance measures specific to children – primary education, child health, and child nutrition – to produce a score on a scale of 0 to 100, with zero being the best with higher scores indicating worse performances.[22] According to Save the Children, each of the indicators was chosen because it was easily accessible, universally understood, and clearly indicative of child wellbeing.[22] Health measures under-five mortality rate; nutrition measures the percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely underweight (which is two standard deviations below the median weight for age of the reference population); and education measures the percentage of primary school-age children that are not enrolled in school.[22] In terms of opportunities and capabilities, CDI is the most appropriate measurement of child poverty.[22]


Of the estimated 2.2 billion children worldwide, about a billion, or every second child, live in poverty.[23] Of the 1.9 billion children in developing nations, 640 million are without adequate shelter; 400 million are without access to safe water; 270 million have no access to health services.[24] In 2003, 10.6 million children died before reaching the age of five, which is equivalent to the total child population of France, Germany, Greece, and Italy.[25] 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation while 2.2 million die each year due to lack of immunizations.[26]
The Child Development Index also illustrates relative child poverty compared across all regions of the world (see Measuring child poverty).[22]
  • World performance: CDI = 17.5
  • Africa: CDI = 34.5
  • Middle East/North Africa: CDI = 11.2
  • Central/East Europe and Central Asia: CDI = 9.2
  • South Asia: CDI = 26.4
  • East Asia: CDI = 8.5
  • Latin America and Caribbean: CDI = 6.8
  • Developed Countries: CDI = 2.1
The CDI in Africa is twice that of the world average, and South Asia also fares poorly in relation to the global performance.[22] In contrast, the CDI in developed countries is one-ninth of the world CDI, indicating a clear distinction between developing and developed nations.[22]
However, in 2013, child poverty reached record high levels in the United States, with 16.7 million children, more than 20%, living in food insecure households. 47 million Americans depend on food banks, more than 30% above 2007 levels. Households headed by single mothers are most likely to be affected. Worst effected are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida, while North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts are the least affected.[27]


With a lot of children in lose they can despair and just die by accident. The majority of poverty-stricken children are born to poor parents. Therefore the causes such as adult poverty, government policies, lack of education, unemployment, social services, disabilities and discrimination significantly affect the presence of child poverty. Lack of parental economic resources such as disposable income restricts children’s opportunities.[28] Economic and demographic factors such as deindustrialization, globalization, residential segregation, labor market segmentation, and migration of middle-class residents from inner cities, constrain economic opportunities and choices across generation, isolating inner-city poor children.[28]
The loss of “family values”, or decline of the nuclear family, illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, and increased numbers of single mothers, is also cited as a major cause of poverty and welfare dependency for women and their children.[28] Kids resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to live in poverty;[29] raising a child requires significant resources, so each additional child increases demands on parental resources. Families raised by a single parent are generally poorer than those raised by couples.[30] In the United States, 6 of 10 long term poor children have spent time in single parent families[28] and in 2007, children living in households headed by single mothers were five times as likely as children living in households headed by married parents to be living in poverty.[31]
Many of the apparent negative associations between growing up poor and children’s attainments reflect unmeasured parental advantages that positively affect both parents’ incomes and children’s attainments, like parental depression.[28]


Developed countries 

Developed countries also have a serious problem with child poverty. If all the 16.7 million poor children in America were gathered in one place, they would form a city bigger than New York.[32] Many published studies have demonstrated strong associations between childhood poverty and the child’s adult outcomes in education, health and socialization, fertility, labor market, and income. Strong evidence suggests that children of low income parents have an increased risk of intellectual and behavioral development problems.[33] Large negative associations between poverty during early childhood and academic outcomes have been consistently found in many studies.[28] Furthermore, children in poverty have a greater risk of displaying behavior and emotional problems, such as disobedience, impulsiveness, and difficulty getting along with peers, and family poverty is associated with higher risk for teen childbearing, less positive peer relations, and lower self-esteem.[34]
In terms of economic disadvantages, adults who experienced persistent childhood poverty are more likely to fall below the poverty line at least once later in life.[34] Poor boys work fewer hours per year, earn lower hourly wages, receive lower annual earnings, and spend more week idle in their mid-twenties.[28] Paternal income is also strongly associated with adult economic status.[28]
Also, childhood poverty in the first three years of life is related to substandard nutritional status and poor motor skills; in contrast, poverty is also associated with child obesity – as they get older, poor children are more likely to have chronic health problems, such as asthma and anemia.[34] These impacts probably reflect issues related to poverty including a substandard diet, inferior housing conditions, poor neighborhood environment, reduced access to goods and activities and the psychological stress stemming from these factors.[35]
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