Child poverty

Child poverty
A boy from an East Cipinang trash dump slum in Jakarta, Indonesia shows his find.

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 commenc ement 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]

Measuring child poverty

A little boy washes cutlery in a pool of dirty water in Cambodia

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 they vary 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 a lot of 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

Recently, 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 the 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 the 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 they were 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].


The majority of poverty-stricken children are born to poor parents. Therefore the causes like adult poverty, such as government policies, lack of education, unemployment, social services, disabilities and discrimination significantly affect the presence of child poverty. Lack of parental economic resources like disposable income restricts children’s opportunities[27]. 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[27].

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[27]. Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are more likely to live in poverty[28]; 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[29]. In the United States, 6 of 10 long term poor children have spent time in single parent families[27] 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[30].

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[27].


Developed countries

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[31]. Large negative associations between poverty during early childhood and academic outcomes have been consistently found in many studies[27]. 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[32].

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[32]. Poor boys work fewer hours per year, earn lower hourly wages, receive lower annual earnings, and spend more week idle in their mid-twenties[27]. Paternal income is also strongly associated with adult economic status[27].

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[32]. 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[33].

Developing countries

Children of road workers near Rishikesh, India.

Using a relative measure of child poverty, an impoverished child growing up in a developing country suffers more hardship than most children living in poverty in a developed country. Poverty in these countries is a condition usually characterised by a severe deprivation of basic human needs (UN,1995). It is estimated that one third of all children in developing countries (~674 million) are living in poverty, the highest rates being in the rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (over 70%)[13]. War, disease, corruption, lack of resources and harsh environmental conditions afflict many of these countries, contributing to their poverty. These factors are a major cause of death, which in turn leads to a higher number of single parents and orphaned children. All UN member states have ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, which aims at reducing violations to a number of rights relevant to reducing child poverty in different countries)[6]. A review published by UNICEF in 2009, found declines in under five mortality, less child malnourishment, increases in breastfeeding, improved water systems and better education access[3]. It also states that despite these improvements 24 000 children still die each day from mostly preventable diseases, 150 million 5-14 year olds are involved in child labour and 100 million primary aged children go without schooling. There are still great inequalities within populations, with girls and children from rural areas more likely to suffer poor health, education and survival than boys and urban populations. Notable state attempts to tackle child poverty in the developing world, include Brazil's Bolsa Familia initiative (reaches 12 million households) and South Africa's Child Grant (7 million households[34]. Elsewhere, child specific social protection policies and programmes are few and the institutions to implement them are often lacking[34].

Cycle of poverty

The cycle of poverty is when a family remains in poverty over many successive generations. For this reason reducing child poverty has been a focus of almost all governments as a way to break this cycle. Improving the quality of education provided to the poor is seen by most as the best way to break this cycle[35]. Improving the environment the child grows up in, ensuring access to health, providing financial incentives (either through benefit schemes or reducing taxes) and promoting family values have all been suggested as ways to break the cycle[citation needed].

Boys and girls have equal rates of poverty through their childhoods but as women enter their teens and childbearing years the rates of poverty between the genders widens. Globally, women are far more impoverished than men and poor children are more likely to live in female-headed households. Attempts to combat the cycle of poverty, therefore, have often targeted mothers as a way to interrupt the negative patterns of poverty that affect the education, nutrition/health, and psychological/social outcomes for poor children.[36]

Policy Implications

According to the Overseas Development Institute*, greater visibility for children's rights issues is needed in donor policies and attempts should be made to emulate the success achieved using gender markers to develop gender-sensitive development policy[30]. They believe major influential players in the children's rights community - the UNICEF, UNFPA and NGOs, such as Save the Children, Plan and World Vision - should do more to highlight the impact of mainstream macro-policies issues on children[30]. The Overseas Development Institute further suggests that an international commission be established to address the impact of the 3-F crisis (food, financial and fuel) on children as a platform for dialogue and new initiatives[30].

However, determining the appropriate policies for dealing with long-term childhood poverty and intergenerational economic inequality is hotly debated, as are most proposed policy solutions, and depends on the effects that most impact the region. In order to combat the lack of resources available in developed nations, policies must be developed that deliver resources to poor families and raise skill levels of poor children by building on successful welfare-to-work initiatives and maintaining financial work supports, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, refundable child care tax credits and housing vouchers[27][32]. To effectively address economic, demographic and cultural changes, economic and social service strategies to reverse the factors that generated the urban underclass, such as providing jobs and social services policies that deal with the effects of isolation, should be implemented[27][32]. Finally, in order to reduce the loss of “family values”, policies should be aimed at expanding economic opportunities especially for disadvantaged girls[27].

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ “Convention on the Rights of the Child”[1] (1989) Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  2. ^ Childfund (2005) “Child and Poverty, Part I” Downloadable at
  4. ^ Childfund (2005) "Understanding Children’s Experience of Poverty: An Introduction to the DEV Framework" Downloadable at [2]
  5. ^ Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Center (CHIP) (2005) "CHIP Briefing 1: Children and Poverty" [3]
  6. ^ a b c d UNICEF (2006) "Children Living In Poverty"
  7. ^ Roelen, Keetie and Gassmann, Franziska (2008) "Measuring Child Poverty and Well-Being: a literature review" Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University (pdf availiable at the Munich Personal RePEc Archive) (MPRA) [4]
  8. ^ a b Citro and Michael (1995) "Introduction and overview"[5] in Measuring Child Poverty and Well-Being: a literature review National Academy Press, page 31 (downloadable from US Census site [6])
  9. ^ [World Bank]
  10. ^ [International Monetary Fund]
  11. ^ a b UNICEF (2005) "Child Poverty in Rich Countries 2005"
  12. ^ Notten, Geranda and Neubourg, Chris de (2007) ["Relative or absolute poverty in the US and EU? The battle of the rates"] Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University
  13. ^ a b David Gordon, Shailen Nandy, Christina Pantazis, Simon Pemberton (2003) "Child poverty in the developing world" School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Peter Townsend, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science. Google Books [7]
  14. ^ Young Lives ["An international study of childhood poverty"]
  15. ^ Young Lives ["Initial Young Lives Round 2 Country Reports and Key Findings"]
  16. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Peru Round 2 Survey - Report Summary document" [8]
  17. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Vietnam Round 2 Survey - Report Summary document" [9]
  18. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: India Round 2 Survey - Report Summary document" [10]
  19. ^ Young Lives "Young Lives: Ethiopia Round 2 Survey - Report Summary document" [11]
  20. ^ a b c Sen A (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
  21. ^ Denuelin S (2009). An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach. Sterling, VA: Earthscan.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Save the Children (2008). The Child Development Index: Holding governments to account for children’s wellbeing. Save the Children. London, UK.
  23. ^ Shah A (2010). Poverty Facts and Stats. Global Issues <>.
  24. ^ Shah A (2010). Poverty Facts and Stats. Global Issues <>.
  25. ^ Shah A (2010). Poverty Facts and Stats. Global Issues <>.
  26. ^ Shah A (2010). Poverty Facts and Stats. Global Issues <>.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Corcoran M (2001). Mobility, Persistence, and the Consequences of Poverty for Children: Child and Adult Outcomes. Understanding Poverty. New York, USA.
  28. ^ Monea J, Thomas A (June 2011). "Unintended pregnancy and taxpayer spending". Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 43: 88–93. doi:10.1363/4308811. PMID 21651707. 
  29. ^ Millar J and Ridge T (2001). Families, Poverty, Work and Care: A review of literature on lone parents and low income couple families. DWP Research Report No.153. <>.
  30. ^ a b c d Harper C and Jones N (2009). Raising the Game: mainstreaming children's rights. Overseas Development Institute.
  31. ^ George D and Lance L (2005). The impact of family income on achievement. National Bureau of Economic research Working Paper11279. <>.
  32. ^ a b c d e Moore KA, Redd Z, Burkhauser Mbwana K, & Collins A (2009). Children in Poverty: Trends, Consequences, and Policy Options. Child Trends Research Brief. Washington DC, USA.
  33. ^ Duncan GJ and Brooks-Gunn J (1997). Consequences of growing up poor. Russel Sage Foundation.
  34. ^ a b Harper, Caroline and Jones, Nicola (2009) Raising the Game: mainstreaming children's rights Overseas Development Institute
  35. ^ International Workshop on Education and Poverty Eradication Kampala (retrieved 5/1/2010)
  36. ^

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Child Poverty Action Group — (CPAG) is a UK charity that works to alleviate poverty and social exclusion. The stated aims of the CPAG are:[1] Raise awareness of the causes, extent, nature and impact of poverty, and strategies for its eradication and prevention; Bring about… …   Wikipedia

  • Child Poverty Act 2010 — Parliament of the United Kingdom Long title An Act to set targets relating to the eradication of child poverty, and to make other provision about child poverty St …   Wikipedia

  • Child Poverty Action Group (Aotearoa New Zealand) — (CPAG) is a New Zealand political advocacy group for the abolition of poverty and social exclusion. Led by senior University of Auckland economist Susan St.John CPAG describes itself as an independent charity working to eliminate child poverty in …   Wikipedia

  • End Child Poverty coalition — was set up in 2001 by a group of UK children s charities, social justice groups, faith groups, trade unions and others concerned about what they considered the unacceptably high levels of child poverty in the UK. It was established as a charity… …   Wikipedia

  • Renfrew County Child Poverty Action Network — The Renfrew County Child Poverty Action Network (CPAN) is a network specifically designed to help those children in poverty who reside in the Renfrew County of Ontario, Canada.The Network was started in the year 2000 by founders Gregory Lubimiv… …   Wikipedia

  • Poverty in Australia — is a contentious political issue. There is little doubt there is absolute poverty in Australia especially in Aboriginal communities. However many on the Left of Australian politics argue that relative poverty ought to be the appropriate measure.… …   Wikipedia

  • Poverty in Canada — remains prevalent with some segments of society. The measurement of poverty has been a challenge as there is no official government measure. There is an ongoing debate in Canada about whether a relative measure of poverty, or absolute measure of… …   Wikipedia

  • Poverty in China — refers to people whose income is less than a poverty line of $1 per day (PPP) set by the World Bank benchmark (see Measuring poverty). Poverty has affected all aspects of the nation’s life, including the environment, health, education, housing,… …   Wikipedia

  • Child Trends — is a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development. Its mission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutions whose… …   Wikipedia

  • child — [ tʃaıld ] (plural chil|dren [ tʃıldrən ] ) noun count *** 1. ) a young person from the time they are born until they are about 14 years old: The nursery has places for 30 children. The movie is not suitable for young children. He can t… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English