Why UNICEF

Poverty reduction starts with children

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© UNICEF/HQ02-0568/Pirozzi
A smiling girl looks up from her schoolwork, in a primary school in Madagascar.

Most of the people living in poverty are children. Poverty denies children their rights.  It weakens a child's protective environment, as much abuse and exploitation of children is linked to widespread and deeply entrenched poverty. It blights their lives with ill health, malnutrition, and impaired physical and mental development.  It saps their energy and undermines their confidence in the future. No society has ever seen a broad-based reduction in poverty without major and sustained investments in the rights of its people to health, nutrition and basic education.

Poverty is transmitted from one generation to the next.  Impoverished, malnourished mothers, for example, often give birth to under-weight babies.  These babies are more likely to die and, if they do survive, they are less likely to grow and develop to their full potential.  Chronic malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and frequent illness can lead to poor school performance. Consequently, affected children are more likely to drop out of school early and work at occupations below the poverty line, if they manage to find work at all.

Breaking this cycle of poverty depends on investments by governments, civil society and families in children's rights and wellbeing, and in women's rights.  Spending on a child's health, nutrition, education, and social, emotional and cognitive development, and on achieving gender equality, is not only an investment in a more democratic and a more equitable society, it is also an investment in a healthier, more literate and, ultimately, more productive population. Investing in children is morally the right thing to do. It is also a sound economic investment, with high rates of return.  That is why UNICEF says "Finance development: Invest in Children".  It is also why UNICEF says "Poverty reduction starts with children".  The world has come to agree on this.  Six of the eight Millennium Development Goals (external link) relate directly to children.

UNICEF has several recent publications on poverty and children.  Other international organizations and non-governmental organizations also increasingly work on poverty and children.

 

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